Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

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A conversation about insects

Entomology! Practise saying that word a few times out loud. Then read through Helen Clare’s nineteen sonnets dedicated to the creepy, crawly creatures of the insect kingdom.

It feels as if you’re entering a truly mysterious world. Your eye strains to see beyond the wings, the range of colour or fine lines, the unique movement. Then you discover a surprising link to your own mood, quietly dressed in the anatomy of a bug.

Helen Clare does this with brilliance. The sonnet structure lends her pattern and form as she studies the anatomy of her relationships through insects.

The striking thing is the conversational style and the way it creates intimacy. ‘Emperor Dragonfly’, for example, opens:

Have you seen the monster on the window sill?  

There’s an equally fascinating idea in ‘Assassin Bug’when she writes:

My favourites are those killers who look
a victim in the eye, tell them what they’ll do.

It almost felt like taking a walk with the poet while she chatted casually about things that were in no way casual. She revealed bits and pieces of her life with honesty, as one might in the company of strangers. More than once I felt a kind of kinship, especially when I read lines like, ‘[ ... ] she picked her way through / the chaos of my kitchen and made me soup’ (in ‘Seven Spot Ladybird’). Or in ‘Tear Drinking Moth’, where she sends ‘a fleet of butterflies’ to

         [ ... ] disperse and dance
your hurt before your shining eyes.

The non-entomologist may take a few minutes to settle in but the telling is so spontaneous you are drawn in without a struggle. Happy reading!

Shalini Pattabiraman