Tuesday 31 May 2022

Review by Lauren M Foster of "Terminarchy" by Angela France

There are so many excellent poems in Terminarchy, I found it difficult to decide which ones  to highlight, so I will start at the beginning. The opening piece, 'Poetry Makes Nothing Happen,' reminded me of what I once heard said about Alice Munro’s short stories: 'Nothing happens but everything happens.' There can be many positives to nothing happening in our contemporary world—such as during the lockdown of 2020 when nature, at least for a short time, appeared to thrive. 'Poetry Makes Nothing Happen' ponders possibilities, the idea of each decision creating an alternate timeline – like a poetic chaos theory. The second stanza seems particularly poignant right now given the situation in Ukraine:

           Or so that a fighter sits up almost all night reading Rumi, trying
           to understand death and blood, peace and love and sleeps
           too late to be ready for the knock at the door so tells them
           he’ll follow after because he wants to hold his son and play
           with his daughter and nothing happens as he kisses his children
           because he isn’t in the car when a government missile hits it.

France seems to have a relationship with the land, to love it the way one would love a person: she writes the land’s personality, its character, and quirks. I sense a deep sadness at the destruction of nature and the march of progress, something I can sympathize with. Loss runs through the work, as to be expected in any ecopoetic collection, and it explores absences and disconnections, with regards both to nature and other people: the poems 'Fallow' and 'What Remains' made me think of the artist’s exercise of drawing a tree by observing the negative spaces in-between. Longing, too, is present, perhaps for the material in a scientific sense: tangible things, the physical world around us.

'Water Mark' is probably my favourite poem in Terminarchy; its movement follows the bends and cambers, climbs and drops of the road in the work—and like the water of the leak which lends the poem its title, it finds its path of least resistance. There is the pseudo presence of a stranger the other end of a phone-line staring at a screen as they talk, a seeming non-awareness of a world beyond the call-centre:

         She says she can’t send a crew without a postcode.
         I could tell her I know that old sycamore, leaning
         over a crumbling wall, how this bend tightens
         if you come down the hill too fast. There are houses
         backing into the hillside, hidden behind trees
         and shrubs, stately gateposts by the road
         with blurred names carved
         into lichened stone, no numbers.

Journey-ways feature prominently in Terminarchy in works such as 'Desire Path,' 'Piggy Lane' and 'Strange Road.' There are adventures of the everyday sort, the familiar seen in unfamiliar ways, small joys, open spaces, the freedom of roaming, of the frogs and sparrows you might get to know in your back yard. There is a sense of wonder present that many lose after childhood is but a distant memory.

Online life and the false sense of having done something about injustices and the climate emergency is analysed in 'Small Gods,' 'Scrolling and Blame'—and 'Missing the Blood Moon' illustrates that detachment from a true-present endless digital media can bring. The Lockdown too, is a worthy subject, in 'After,' where people ‘came out, blinking in the summer light’  while others ‘step back inside, close their doors, pull down their blinds.’

Terminarchy is observant, thoughtful and well crafted with those small details, word choices and delightful metaphors which make a difference. In 'Muscle Memory,' France writes:

          The lift of a kettle, cup, the snug of peeler
          against my thumb, the stretch of fingers
          around a winter potato. How to tong coal
          on to a new fire or draw the flame
          with newspaper held tight across the grate.
          My hands remember how to rock a crying infant,
          how to wipe a child’s face, the O of her mouth
          disappearing like a moon behind cloud.

Terminarchy is not a didactic ecopoetic collection, but instead informs and engages the reader, as good writing should. It retains a warm and largely positive outlook throughout while acknowledging the damage the human race has inflicted on the natural world. There is kindness, compassion and a down-to-earth vibe that I enjoyed greatly.

About the reviewer
Lauren M Foster is a writer and musician based in Charnwood and a graduate of the MA Creative Writing at University of Leicester.

You can read more about Terminarchy by Angela France on Creative Writing at Leicester here.

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