Review | Skies, Alison Brackenbury | Book of the Week

“Alison Brackenbury loves, lives, hymns and rhymes the natural world and its people like no other poet.” Gillian Clarke, National Poet of Wales

Brackenbury’s latest (ninth) collection, Skies, reflects on childhood memory, Christmas in the country and stories from the WW1 passed down by relatives and friends.

It was the First World War.
Her husband was away.
She knew fear, but also found
new freedom in the day . . .

She contemplates age and death and is, as always, attuned to the musicality of memory and the natural world.

The Cox’s apple tree has blowsy swags,
a girl’s bare shoulders, falling from a dress.
Hawthorn, though held bad luck, shines pale and neat,
a distant housewife, waving off her guest.
Untrimmed and unplanted, worn by weather,
one small tree’s flowers burn red, unperplexed,
flash snow. Crab apples, in pale yellow pools
like sun, feed all, spilt, patient, wait the next.

It is ironic that as more people move from city to countryside − predominantly rural areas in England are experiencing internal inward migration of more than 60,000 a year – much of the rural community feels abandoned by the Tory powers-that-be who are doing little to stop HS2, fuel prices and planning laws that give developers greater powers to override local communities.

Brackenbury’s words and the images they evoke engage all the senses. As I read I am back in the wild countryside of my childhood, and yearn for that damp green smell coming through the window, the sound of the rooks outside in the trees, and the church bell announcing the Angelus. Her references to foodbanks and fracking are depressing reminders of how big business and the countryside are so profoundly incompatible.

I scramble strata. What is ‘fracking’?
Cheap gas, trucks for the farmer’s lad,
the shaken homes of Oklahoma,
water made waste? You must be mad.”

They say a poem a day is good for you and enriches your life. I hardly ever read poetry now and, regrettably, can barely remember A. E. Housman ‘s A Shropshire Lad memorised at school. What a shame! What a loss!

Brackenbury’s poem The Horse’s Mouth inspired by ‘The Remnants of an Army’, Elizabeth Butler’s painting of one survivor of the massacre of sixteen thousand British soldiers and camp followers in the First Afghan War, 1842 should be on every school reading list.  

Learning poetry by heart fires the imagination and has been shown to improve both short and long-term memory. I hear my late French father’s deep, melodic voice reciting Georges Fourest’s La négresse blonde. Perhaps I will have a go at memorising one of Brackenbury’s gorgeous poems . . .

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Skies by Alison Brackenbury | Carcanet | March £9.99  80pp PB | ISBN: 9781784101800



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Published by

georgia DC

Bilingual editor, rewriter, French-to-English translator. Has written for 3am magazine, words without borders, The Independent, The Lady, Banipal, Prospect Magazine, Times Literary Supplement. Currently writes for The BookBlast Diary. Founder (1997) of London-based writing agency BookBlast.

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