Thursday 23 March 2023

Review by Jane Simmons of "The Fourth Sister" by Laura Scott

The poems in Laura Scott’s new collection are populated by a richly assorted cast: lovers and sisters, but also parents and children, the living and the dead, birds and trees, painters, playwrights and their characters, Tolstoy, a godfather who married the wrong man and a godmother who was surely a spy.

The title alludes to Chekhov’s ‘Three Sisters,’ and references to the writer, his life and work are woven through the collection in poems such as ‘The First Sister’ which balances the title of the collection, ‘The Fourth Sister’, and ‘To Be One of Them,’ written after seeing a production of the play which describes being drawn into it to become one of the sisters. 'Why Are You Silent?' is a poem made up of extracts from letters between the playwright and the actress Olga Knipper who became his wife. 

This last is a poem which the poet describes as ‘an anti-autobiography poem,’ a description which introduces the playfulness evident in the collection. Poems also play with ‘the tyranny of stories’ – the fourth sister is ‘the one who slips the story’s collar,’ while ‘Why Are You Silent?’ plays with dialogue, with ideas of volubility or the ‘sprawl of talk,’ its long lines changing  direction as they snake down the page. ‘Cover Photo’ – a late addition to the collection - was written to guarantee the use of picture which was Scott’s choice for cover.

I was struck by how questions are used in these poems, how they pose questions and set out to answer them. ‘The Fourth Sister,’ for example, begins with a series of questions and opens up a dialogue with the other ‘sister’ poems. However, Scott knows better than to overwork the technique: in ‘The Bored Cowboy,’ one of a sequence of poems on boredom which explores how it slows down time so that you feel the ‘thickness’ of ‘slow, clogged time,’ she begins with one of those questions:

          and what about the blackbird
          Singing his big strong song
          From the heart of the tree?

only this time she denies the reader an answer by the ‘-‘  at the end of the poem.

At the Carcanet book launch for ‘The Fourth Sister,’ Scott spoke of how she is fascinated by our inability to remember, of wanting the poem to free something and then encountering the resistance of the subject. This is how her poems come to be held between ‘telling and withholding’ – like the people in Chekhov’s plays – and how the reader is invited into the space of the poem to participate in the action and the dialogue.

About the reviewer
Jane Simmons is a former teacher now 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 Mslexia Poetry Prize 2022.

No comments:

Post a Comment