Gaia Holmes’ third collection with Manchester’s ever-reliable Comma Press is a bittersweet gem. Writing mostly in a kind of disciplined free verse, Holmes runs her eye across a wealth of strange material, exploring the private dreams of pylons, the curious properties of sinkholes and how best to react when transforming into a sea horse. Yet this is no exercise in whimsy. Holmes’ pen is always exacting and her tone refreshingly matter of fact.
The Blue Hourcontrasts the beauty of an Orkney sky with the violence inherent in the landscape, pausing to note the ‘greedy shriek of hungry gulls,’ and the fisherman with ‘his writhing sack full of half-dead mackerel / spilling out, screaming dying silver.’ Holmes knows to paint each picture in more than just one tone.
The Orkney reference is not without context: the island is also the setting for the bold series of poems which open the collection, wry, confessional pieces which explore the process of first nursing then grieving a loved one. These carry an apt sense of disconnection, moving between moods and registers because, as the speaker reflects, ‘I have no manual / for dying / so I do what I think / you’re supposed to do.’ It’s a strong opening salvo, the curated shaping of which gives licence to the echoes and experiments to come.
Holmes’ willingness to examine the violence of nature head-on carries echoes of Ted Hughes, while direct nods are seeded throughout to Anne Sexton, Mary Oliver and William Carlos Williams, whose meme-ified punnet of cold plums comes in for a startling feminist revision. Here is a collection in which the domestic rubs up alongside the apocalyptic, a sight-filled trip down a road which never seems at risk of running out.
Where the Road Runs Out is published by Comma Press and is available here.
Gaia Holmes lives in Halifax. She is a free-lance writer and creative writing tutor who works with schools, libraries and other community groups throughout the West Yorkshire region. She runs ‘Igniting The Spark’, a weekly writing workshop at Dean Clough, Halifax. She has had two full length poetry collections published by Comma Press: Dr James Graham’s Celestial Bed (2006) and Lifting The Piano With One Hand (2013).and Tales from the Tachograph, a collaborative work with Winston Plowes (Calder Valley Poetry, 2017). Her third collection, Where the Road Runs Out, will be published by Comma Press in Autumn 2018.
Reviewed by Nick Garrard
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