Claire Crowther / Mollicle
£5.00 / Nine Arches Press / ISBN: 978-0-9565514-2-9
All Nine Arches pamphlets are beautiful, but Mollicle’s bright daffodil yellow cover is particularly attractive, sharpening the black ink of the title & urging you to pick it up & read. The poems within are much the same, overtly simple but almost immediately urging you to read & re-read them. In an interview, Claire Crowther has described Mollicle as being about the “condition of women”, &, following the second title of the pamphlet, ‘Captured Women’ recur, appearing in a series of tense, anxious & immersive poems. Crowther has a knack for the puzzling & the unexpected. The best example of this is in the second half of ‘Blue Dog’:
Outside, an old woman
hands her a business leaflet:
‘If you dread explaining
a grandmother’s life is up
to you and named already,
call us: Blood Surprises.’
All winter, the women thought
of babies — their clear skin
even if bruised or bloodied.
The short lines, out of alignment with each other (which I can’t reproduce accurately here), accentuate the way in which each one uses something unexpected; almost every enjambment brings a surprise as it moves off in different directions from what the reader was anticipating. The most obvious of these is the final line, as no one saw “even if bruised or bloodied” coming.
Most of the poems, although not as noticeably as in ‘Blue Dog’, draw together apparently unconnected ideas, incorporate different voices, & generally cover a very large area in a small number of words. Poetically it is great value for money, & very compelling. In poems like ‘Emotion At Work, 1970’, ‘Heritage’, & ‘Young Woman with Scythe’ this works really well, as we are completely drawn in, & the prevailing mood is of uneasiness & of the scattered experience of the mind.
Creating this depth from such disparate ideas is not easy, & I don’t think Crowther is always successful. ‘The Fete of Mystics’ & ‘Woman in the Canon’ especially are technical accomplishments that nevertheless fail to stand up to much thinking. I can’t read ‘The Fete of Mystics’ without tripping up over “You shift’s done”, & in the end can’t figure out who was speaking, or what was meant to be happening exactly, or how even each sentence is meant to engage with the last. It seems that Crowther is creating a fable, but one for which the reader isn’t given the necessary clues to construct. It is the same in ‘Woman in the Canon’, wherein a point about women’s place in literature is reshaped into a fable inexplicably involving cabbages-for-heads. It seems this is a private association withheld from the reader, although I suppose I could just have misunderstood. There is also the sense, here & there, that Crowther is fabling a private experience of hers into a poem which will never hold a full story for anyone other than her. I can’t shake this suspicion when reading ‘Mollicle’ & ‘Ash-heart’, & believe it is what Charlotte Gann refers to when she writes of the pamphlet: “At times, it feels almost like she’s wielding words to fend off something difficult.”
That said, Mollicle is a very strong pamphlet. My favourites are ‘The Death of Alcyone’ & ‘Risk’, the latter being completely masterful. ‘Risk’ is like a poem with a garden simile has been pulled through & inside-out, so instead we have a description of the garden with “a woman poised to stay” appearing suddenly in the final lines.
where a wall of arches balances
like a woman poised to stay
— balances, stands or staggers —
even the cautious explore there
It is a powerful moment where the natural in a flash becomes a reflection of the mental world, as a sudden increase in signification. It is these moments which show Crowther’s skill, & which make the pamphlet worth reading again & again.
(Briefly, I don’t agree with Kirsten Irving that the notes in Mollicle are “overexplanatory”. Whilst perhaps they would be better in the back, rather than alongside or beneath the text (as the few are in Mollicle), more poets should give notes (even in the age of Google), not least just because they are interesting if done properly, & still helpful even if not.)