Saturday, 28 March 2020

How to Carry Fire - Christina Thatcher - BLOG TOUR

In my life as a book blogger I find that it is primarily fiction and non-fiction that offer blogging opportunities. To date I have only reviewed three works of poetry; two anthologies and a crime story set in verse! It’s a challenge and that’s great. I was really excited to be invited onto the blog tour for this immersive collection of poems by Christina Thatcher. 

 Shortlisted for the Bare Fiction Debut Poetry Collection Competition in 2015 and a winner in the Terry Hetherington Award for Young Writers in 2016, Christina Thatcher’s poetry and short stories have featured in over 40 publications including The London Magazine, Planet Magazine, And Other Poems, Acumen and The Interpreter’s House. Her first collection, More than you were, was published by Parthian Books in 2017. 

The volume is a collection of 73 poems linked by the common theme of fire, both physical, metaphorical and analytical. Each of these poems I have read aloud which has certainly set me on fire to say the least! The words leap off the page at me as if they are all flames dancing and writhing their way into my consciousness. Poetry is emotion, pure, raw. But how do you set about conveying in a few hundred words exactly what lies in these depths of image and metaphor? Poetry is so much more subjective than fiction that the art of the reviewer seems inadequate. 

You think about the image conveyed by the title, you think about carrying fire and I had images of ancient man with his precious torch of fire symbolising a potent for survival. I also thought about the Olympic torch and the journey it makes and I thought about beacons being lit across a coastline to warn of imminent danger.

Thematically - fire is dominant, the collection explores love, broadly and specifically, trauma of loss and addiction and the delicate balance of emotion, and emphasises the elemental nature of this being we call homo sapien. Each poem in this collection is a flame in a fire, dancing, reaching out to us, the reader. The paradox of fire, survival and destruction. Comforting warmth yet lung searing devastation.  As a group the poems convey a fusion of the physical and emotional effects of fire. Maybe we all carry fire within us? As might be expected some poems spoke to me more than others; some for their searing honesty and flayed emotion, others for their piercing insights. 

But I have too many favourites! So I must practice selectivity. Let’s start with the first in the collection, first impressions and all that! Insurance Report - blazing in its simplicity, it asks us to question the sentiment and nostalgia contained within artefacts, how they affect our emotion, and their worth in every sense of the word.

We cried out for these totems:
Who are we without them? Who are we?

Only the inspectors answered back:
But what were they worth?
What were they worth?

An Improper Kindness - The opening stabs you. Two words:

Leave rehab.’

Then follows an elegy of love, memory and unrequited hopes.

‘But you are so tired and the light
of the halcyon place is getting brighter
and warmer, coming just into reach,
and so I tell you to go, open the door:

be happy.

Ode to Ottsville - Oh I could quote this in full! A litany of innocence and childhood simplicity lost in the march of time. 

‘…..I want 
that time again when geese were a child’s only enemy,

when fear was just bast emerging form the paddock barn.

And if it seems we are straying from the fire theme let’s return with the titular How to Carry Fire - which, it seemed to me, was trying to unite the strands of the entire collection using fire as a wider metaphor, the physical burning as a destructive force, fire in the belly as the life force. It’s powerful.

‘…..Take what those flames
can give you. Feel heat enter your stomach.

Stay wary now. You must never let the light
go out. Keep it lit until you learn to glow.

What Comes Next - giving voice to that unnerving fear that love can provoke: the safety and continued fidelity and existence of a loved one, the unspoken acknowledgement of the fragility of life. 

‘….Even writing this

makes it more true
and so I am afraid, always
of what comes next
and the fear of fearing this.

And similar in mood to that poem is What If - the poet fears for the safety and well being of her addict brother returning to the fire theme seeing the issues of their lives as fires. Another poem that is expansive in its simplicity.

What if you forget the fires we’ve seen,
how we fought them, and I am left
here to remember it all
on my own?

I could continue with more. Reluctantly, I won't. And, maybe I should allude to metre, rhyme as it’s poetry? But I won’t. I can't. My heart is full up to overflowing with the immensity of the emotion contained within these verses. I’ll say no more except that, I wonder? Will there be future collectors by this exceptional poet in this elemental cycle - How To Carry Water, How to Carry Air and How to Carry Earth?!

I feel absolutely privileged to have experienced these poems and to be invited to participate in the blog tour. These are just my feelings. Please read what my blogging colleagues have to say.

Thank you to Isabelle Kenyon from Fly on the Wall Press for this opportunity.