Author: Pansy Maurer-Alvarez.
Publisher: Knives Forks And Spoons Press.
Pages: 119 pages
Reviewer: MANDY PANNETT
It is always a pleasure to read the poetry of Pansy Maurer-Alvarez and I appreciate this chance to review her latest, beautifully produced collection, Oranges in January.
A key feature of all her writing is its musicality. As she herself says in an article ‘poetry is first and foremost music … the brain automatically, instinctively, makes associations without one having to think.’ It is the sensuousness of the poetry and the intuitive awareness of connections that appeal to me. May, Apparently from a Calendar begins with a medieval pageant crossing a bridge into a crowded town ‘unnoticed’ by a ‘you’ who is one of a boating party on the river. Simon Bening’s painting shows May as a green month – an ‘allover green’, a ‘profusion of green’ but the predominant colour is red which becomes the link between the medieval calendar and the intimacy of a present day phone call as images mingle and shift as gradually as the river light in both scenes.
The poem, In Memory of the Unclaimed, is a perfect example of the subtle use of concept conveyed through metaphor. The unclaimed are the thousands who died during the heat wave in France in 2003 and whose identities were never acknowledged by their next of kin. Apart from a footnote no facts are given but the tragic events are depicted through the metaphor of ‘birdness’ which is ‘removed’ with the loss of air, flight and song. ‘This summer’, we are told, ‘the sky has dropped its birds/and doesn’t know them anymore.’ They are poignant lines.
Central to the poems in Oranges in January is the theme of memory. There is the kind that is both collective and personal, built into ‘Neolithic landscapes of/awakening and wonder’ where ‘our bones/retain a memory of living: of clouds/of things like jasmine/or milkweed;/a foot sliding into a shoe on a /grey and rainy (again) day;/of places that were dark and cold,’ (Spring’s Sudden This Year and Things Change). There are memories that are random, triggered by something as natural as ‘reflections seen in street puddles’ or ‘the swish of wet cars’(Coming and Going in Rain). In Particular (for snow) memories like this evoke other, deeper moments, precious as ‘bright petals/buried two years now in the snow’. Especially moving and beautiful are memories of the poet’s father, some elicited in dreams ‘as darkly coloured as water at night’, (Valediction), others that are tantalisingly elusive as in Draw Me Closer where ‘I listen for your story remembering the voice I know best but it has lost/ its face like one misplaces an earring’ and ‘I know you’re telling me something important enough to remember./You’re describing a picture that isn’t a picture. You aren’t using/ colours. You aren’t using words.’
Memory, then, is an important theme in Oranges in January. Possibly the poem that I find most meaningful is Water-Meadow with Birches where a video installation shows the reservoir that ‘served the kitchens and latrines of Birkenau’. Here the surface of the wind-moved water might stir the imagination into summoning up ‘living/memory’ of ‘nightmare shadows’ but, at the same time, ‘life/ goes on and people live nearby/Not everything comes to the surface of the water/Not everything is said or stops’.
It is this sense of a living memory that I find significant in Pansy Maurer-Alvarez’ poetry. Memories, she implies in Particular (for sunrays), are more than just a re-visiting of the past, more than a moment of nostalgia for ‘that yellow light’ in ‘our daisy fields’. They are a new experience, a source of ‘knowledge’ to be treasured and stored as if in an ‘exquisite box of/inlaid Japanese lacquer’ and glimpsed from time to time. ‘Inside is where we need to go’, she says, describing the source of her own creativity and inner life in ‘my personal compartment/inside the music where the poems go – where they run with the river alongside me/when night is low, the destination clear.’
The poems in Oranges in January are multi-layered, rich in imagery and shifting moods, personal and moving, mysterious, dreamlike, contemplative, elemental (especially evocative of air and water) – there are many, many facets to enjoy and linger over.
Mandy Pannett, author of All the Invisibles is the Poetry Editor of Sentinel Literary Quarterly.