Friday 20 October 2023

Review by Gary Day of "The Omniscient Tooth Fairy" by Vic Pickup

First things first. This tooth fairy is not omniscient. One poem is called ‘Little did I know.’ Nor is she really - this may come as no surprise - a tooth fairy. As ‘Occupation’ shows, she is so much more: ‘a climbing frame,’ ‘a tissue,’ ‘a body guard’ - in other words, a mum. More tough fairy than tooth fairy.

The only reference to dental matter is in ‘Irretrievable.’ The speaker recalls not being able to retrieve her daughter’s tooth after dropping it down the sink where its ‘pale milkiness erod[es] slowly in the sewer dirt.’ This slight but powerful drama of maternal anxiety and lost innocence crops up again in the poignant yet stoical ‘Facts of life.’

Most poems in this delightful collection concern the ups and downs of the speaker’s many-sided domestic life: husband, babies, picking up children from school, shopping for a birthday, family outings. They are a beguiling mix of vividness and tenderness, streaked with darkness. Indeed why shouldn’t they be? Life isn’t all sunny side up. But even when things get on top of the speaker, humour is never far away, as in the dazzling ‘My New Fridge,’ whose ending packs quite a punch.

Outside the fraught but generally cosy domestic circle there are more ominous events such as the plight of refugees portrayed in ‘Jungle,’ which finishes with a devastatingly powerful image. ‘The Longing of Judith Kerr’ is the most lacerating poem in the volume. It asks the reader to imagine how the children murdered in the death camps could be coaxed back to life. There are also hints of personal tragedy and a keen awareness that not all is well in contemporary Britain.

The collection bounces along. Whimsical, profound, absurd, touching, joyous, courageous and deeply life-affirming. Buy it.

About the reviewer
Gary Day is a retired English lecturer. He is the author of several books including The Story of Drama: Tragedy, Comedy and Sacrifice from the Greeks to the Present. He has also edited a range of books including two volumes on British Poetry in the Twentieth Century. His debut poetry collection, The Glass Roof Falls Like Rain, is due to be published by Holland Press later this year. 

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