Blue-Green Algae, Rosie Driffill
Valley Press, 2022 £6.99
Repetition and change
The thing that struck me most about these poems was their use of repetition, fitting for the strong focus on the natural world, given how the seasons repeat and vary each year.
‘Don’t’, for example, is built around a succession of varying repetitions. It starts:
Don’t bring me spring,
this year. This year
is not the same, so it must not look the same.
The poet then uses ‘Hold back’, ‘hold them’ and ‘Hold them’ in the next three lines, followed by ‘I don’t want to see it. I don’t want to hear it. / I don’t want to hear the sparrows shriek’ and ‘I don’t want to smell the lilac’. The poem closes (after ‘maybe next year, bring me spring. / Maybe next year’) with:
I’m not afraid that I will cry —
I’m afraid that I’ll forget, and smile.
The speaker’s motivation seems personal — they can’t bear spring coming round because there’s something ‘not the same’ in their own life. But other poems use repetition to speak more directly of change in the natural world caused by human action. ‘Contrails’, for example, starts with the image:
two thin lines
across the blue sky
two prong bows,
two hope rows
Partway through, the speaker switches to using repetition for persuasion:
let’s get away
for a bit,
we haven’t been away
All of this leads up to the wry conclusion that we’re trying to fly ‘away from earth’s demise’.
The environmental concerns are even more direct and the repetition even more marked in ‘Maybe they can’t bear it when’. This poem asks ‘Why do swallows really leave?’ The title is repeated four times as a refrain and almost all the stanzas are linked using the word ‘again’. Stanzas two, three and four start:
May ends and it’s June again;
dieback breeds like wildfire again;
rain leaves pools, again;
The same word is picked up in the last line of stanza five: ‘So we pave our plot again.’
The technique of repetition here is flexible enough to enact humans doing what we do, again — stupid though it may be — and the natural world doing what it does again: despair and hope; hope and despair.