Saturday 9 September 2023

Review by Christine Hammond of "The Night Jar" by Louise Peterkin

The cover art of Louise Peterkin’s The Night Jar sets the tone for a collection that is stylish and understated, yet beautifully theatrical. 

Be prepared for the poems to take you on a Carroll-esque transport of delights. Like Alice, you’ll experience a colourful cast, often led by women appearing to  inhabit the interstices of fantasy and reality. Yet somehow, no matter where the dramas are played out, they remain elegantly embedded in the relatable, ordinary script and emotional spectrum of our daily lives. Lives that include love, faith, relationship ennui, sexuality, freedom, joy, disappointment, longing, ambition, loss and escape from routine oppression. 

In a four-episode vignette we are introduced to the adventures of a recalcitrant nun in "Sister Agnieska Runs Away to the Circus." Here, the Big Top is described as a "yummy mirage" and early on the skilful use of tense and double entendre convey the poem's "fallen" theme: 

          … the twirling, the leaping and the curving
          for the love of God, the love 
          of the falling …

          … You know now balance 
          is an act of sheer faith.

"Snake" is both visceral and anthropomorphic. It articulates the ending of a relationship, carefully planned and executed:

          No one suspected I could be so snakey..
          ... I was long gone.
          My skin like hosiery on the floor

The motif is extended with "snakey" witticisms and a well-placed dramatic exclamation:

          I nudged to the East with panache …

          ... there were clues …

          sodden shirts twisting 
          round my arm like a bracelet
          the spiced tomb of the laundry basket.

The bird image in the final verse is both delicate and self-contained, with a Haiku resonance that only adds to the sensory experience: 

         How lithe I am I have wriggled free!
         I hiss like Peter Lorre. A small bird
         fizzes like seltzer inside me. 

Peterkin’s debut is a fine piece of work. Intelligent and exquisitely crafted, the poems are highly visual and immersive. Reading them will leave you satiated, yet still looking forward to the next production. 

About the reviewer
Christine Hammond began writing poetry whilst studying English at Queen’s University, Belfast. Her early poems were published in The Gown (QUB), The Female Line (NIWRM) and Women’s News where, as one of the original members, she also wrote Arts Reviews and had work published in Spare Rib. She returned to writing again after a long absence and her poetry has been featured in a variety of anthologies including The Poet’s Place and Movement (Poetry in Motion – The Community Arts Partnership), The Sea (Rebel Poetry Ireland), all three editions of Washing Windows and Her Other Language (Arlen House). She has also been a reader at Purely Poetry - Open Mic Night, Belfast.

You can read more about The Night Jar by Louise Peterkin on Creative Writing at Leicester here

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