Review in Poetry Nottingham 62/1 (Spring 2008)
by Peter Day
Lines North. Selected Poems by Pat Corina.
The quiet lyrics in this collection savour life and admit fragility. Personal memories and the poet’s experience combine in extraordinary ways in her work which serves as a corrective or antidote to the deafening banality and confusion in so much art and literature in contemporary culture. Here there is a vivid sense of life lived, defiance of loss and change, hope and consolation.
‘The writer’s voice’ and ‘Speaking to silence’ address the writer’s (and speakers’) uncertainties and the difficulties of communication by conmmenting on the elusiveness of ideas and by personifying language. They reflect on the poet’s vulnerability. On a conscious level they express the frustration experienced when a poet reads her verse but does not project the voice sufficiently. Lack of self confidence and emotional tension can lead anyone to find public speaking difficult but the resultant mumbling frustrates the
would-be listener because the speaker needs only to raise her head and
increase the pitch of her voice. It is this situation which is recollected in the five tercets of ‘The writer’s voice’ about the death of her father and the transient nature of language. The first stanza uses flat and melancholy words but in the assonantal and alliterative second stanza:
The voice lifts, shifts a semi-tone,
a half refrain
at each line’s end.
introduces a more elevated sound. In the third stanza the reader is more assertive. Words are personified and held by the scruff of the necks. Self doubt and distrust of language return in the penultimate stanza the last line of which runs on to the final verse:
If she takes her mind off them
they’ll be gone,
courting the edges of air
in a breath.
Apprehension aboirt transience and the loss of language is emphasised. Paradoxically air has no edges although individuals have and unlike air they can he courted. The father’s death, ceasing to breathe, is paralleled by ideas of words sliding to silence “in a breath.”
The shape and sounds of the irregular lines of ‘My mother’s clock’, a short poem of four two line stanzas are unsettling and this is seen in the first stanza. in which the clock’s ticking as the sound rebounds from the corner of the room “disturbs me”. The title runs on to the first line and there are repeated echoes of sound/rebound. Another echo — a tiny trapped voice like echo soundings from a submarine are in the second stanza. The stressed “ound” sound is repeated as sound waves bounce and “time places itself” bouncing sound waves from its boundaries in the ambiguous third stanza. “Time placing itself” suggests mortality: “this is mother’s clock and she died” puts physical and emotional pressure on the writer and reader. All the lines begin in lower case until the final stanza when a capital letter punctuates the climax: the ticking of the clock ceases and the writer has to force herself to breathe. It is as if the silence is another reminder of death (the silence of the grave). The poem may be read in terms of transformation – from sound to silence — from life to death. The prominent “ound” sounds which are stressed may be associated with wounds — the wounds we feel when a loved one dies.
‘Nightmare’ is also about several kinds of wounds, the pain of separation and loss, the breathlessness which occurs during or after nightmares. It is Anna who is bereft — only Vronsky’s cigar smoke lingers. There is no full stop at the end of this poem; we are left to imagine what happens “in the glare of the engine’s lights” and to reflect on Tolstoy’s tragic love story set in a Russia stifled by her moral bankruptcy and its contemporary relevance. We are in Pasternak’s Russia in the first part of the verbally rich ‘Cut’, a poem of sixteen lines in which the poet recalls seeing the film Doctor Zhivago five times. At line eight a short indented line marks a change in the setting: “I had forgotten/ this was Africa until its perfumed dance shuck up again:/” Now the writer has a walk-on part in the extravaganza “where colour sounds and scent/were amplified to unreality.” She feels as if she’d be out of the frame just round the corner. Again she contemplates death and again the language is beautiful. Like the poet we may he moved to tears.
The verses in this book take readers to places they might not, or would not be able to go otherwise. Pat Corina’s work permits us to enter and share her inspiring and unique kind of consciousness. There are references to her Northern roots in the title poem which is a poetic conversation between the northern poet and verbatim passages from a letter sent by Mary Vigar of Somerset to her daughter in Bradford. They are found in other poems too for example ‘Image of my aunt’, ‘How we remember her’ and ‘Tyrell Street, Bradford, 1903’. Writing is influenced by history and culture and the collection is replete with associations and allusions to literary figures such as Milton, Tolstoy, Pasternak, Robert Frost, Philip Larkin, Wole Soyinka and Shakespeare.
The moving wisfulness and sensitivity of the poems about loss and death finds its counterpoint in poems expressing hope and reassurance. This may come through paradox as in ‘100 years of certitude’, a poem about the Crucifixion (which relates to wounds in other poems discussed above). It is associated with powerful poems by Charles Causley ‘Ballad of the Bread Man’ and G.A. Studdert-Kennedy’s ‘Indifference’ in which Jesus came to Birmingham and crouched against a wall and cried for Calvary. Pat Corina is not afraid to work on enduring values and large themes, Another poem ‘I believe’ by the torture victim and hospice director Sheila Cassidy: ‘I believe/no pain is lost/no tear unmarked,/no cry of anguish/dies unheard,/” The choice of a Pythagorean epigraph is striking. Though a puzzling figure he was an early campaigner for equality for women. As a religious prophet and the founder of mathematics his influence on our culture is immeasurable. The poem. picks up on the sentence at the end of the epigraph: “Though there is change, nothing is lost” and concludes:
— I shall light
my words so they scatter and lift,
their dark instructions melting grey,
rewound in monochrome
like an upward. drift of spring.
Pat Corina died in 2007. These poems provide a reflection of what it is to be fully human. They are an affirmation and a source of deep satisfaction; they are alive and sing. A few months before her death her friends started to put this collection together and used her suggestions of poems to be included. Several people helped: John Gilboy, Werner Wuchner, Sam Aylward and Elizabeth Rogers. I hope that in the future many people will value this collection. We are greatly indebted to the editors Karin Koller, Davina Prince and Brian Fewster for producing it.