Tuesday 18 October 2022

Review by Jane Simmons of "Scenes from Life on Earth," by Kathryn Simmonds

Scenes from Life on Earth is the third collection of poems from Kathryn Simmonds, the follow-up to her 2008 Forward Prize-winning debut collection Sunday at the Skin Launderette (Seren) and her second collection Visitations (Seren 2013).

The new collection addresses the loss of the poet’s mother, how we grieve, and how we remember those we love; it also explores the related themes of motherhood, of life and death, and how to live in the modern world.

These are big themes, but Simmonds is not afraid to visit them or to explore their mysteries through the prism of her religious faith. That is not to say that the poems themselves are religious poems, or that faith dominates the collection: although there are references to Christ and poems which reference familiar Biblical narratives such as the story of Jonah and the whale, the poet is just as likely to address her big questions or arrive at her celebration of the living or the dead through perceptive observations of the natural world. The meetings of the physical and metaphysical worlds are also sign-posted in the titles of several of the poems which reference tipping points in the week, the months, and the year: 'Wednesday Morning,' 'April,' 'November,' 'Solstice,' 'Equinox.'

Lessons are taught by children, who are presented in ways which might remind the reader of Blake or Wordsworth, but also by plants, birds, insects or even garden weeds and pests such as dandelions or slugs. The war on weeds in 'Dandelion' is mistaken – the plants should be celebrated for their joyous enthusiasm for 'more life.' Elsewhere, the poet asserts that it is better to be a leaf 

          walk about all day, 
          tormented by a brain

The messages from nature are asserted once more in the closing lines of the final poem which provides the title for the collection:

          I loved the trees because
          they had redemption down, 
          oh God be glorified, I loved the trees! 
          The way they ate their old regrets 
                                                   and made them into leaves.

About the reviewer
Jane Simmons is a former teacher – and now a PhD student. She won the University of Leicester’s G. S. Fraser poetry prize in 2019, 2020 and 2021, and the Seren Christmas poetry prize in 2020. Her work has appeared in Ink, Sweat and Tears, The Blue Nib Magazine and on the Seren blog, as well as being long-listed for the Butcher’s Dog Magazine.

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