They Shall Take Up Serpents Smiling

Probably the most notable fact about Linda Lamus’s collection A Crater the Size of Calcutta is that it has made it to publication at all.  The poet Linda Lamus died in 2008 leaving a folder of drafts and the expressed wish that these should be published as a collection. It is a great credit to Carrie Etter, the book’s editor, and Mulfran Press, the book’s publisher, not only that they have fulfilled LL’s wish, but also made this interesting collection available.  Which to say the very least contains a more than a few compelling poems.  (The title of my blog refers to a photograph on the back of the book, showing the author holding snakes and smiling.  The image is not as far as I can tell available on-line.)

At its best LL’s poetry works at the border of fable and reality, in the quick world seen from the corner of the eye rather than weighty myth. The title poem is truly the best poem in the collection, creating a fantastic world that is tangible and linked to reality. There is longing and tension in the poem, that is beautifully hinged on a couple of evocative phrases: a crater the size of Calcutta and Black as Newgate’s Knocker.

Most of the poems are sketches of one sort or another, either of characters or places, in particular Asia and Eastern Europe. In these poems LL manages to inject some of the energy and mystery of fables into the everyday. In Tafan and Line-Painting Man humble characters are transformed by the distances and mysteries of their lives. Probably only in Madame Emilia and the Crocodile does LL move into the purely fantastical. It is a poem written in response to a linocut by Chris Pig, reproduced in the collection. Here the writing is compelling with a light erotic touch.

Many of the poems mix mystery and narrative tension to hold a reader, The Consul’s Dog and The Ice Pond are particular favourites of mine. There is a well realised villanelle Circus Days which is more reflective in tone than most of its kind. Walking to the College of Criminal Justice stands out for its energy and love of life. Towards the end of the book are the poems wrote in response to her final illness. These poems are simpler and more direct than the rest of the collection. LL manages to find some of the same characters on the ward that she has found in other places, and provides a disturbing account of some of the careless treatment she received. In the last four poems Bloodsuckers, My Shadow Is Full of Roses, Morphine Queen, and Pacakage I think I can feel the poet bringing her sensibility to her new situation. Pacakage the final poem is mysterious, compelling and touching, and can stand up against any of the other poems in the collection.