Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

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Seeing things differently

As I read Entomology in the unusual August heat, a riot of painted lady butterflies, varying in shades from pale to vibrant orange, gathered on a buddleia in my garden. This is a once in a decade event in the UK.  Sometimes, the ever-present, but largely ignored, world of insects rises to the top of our agenda, and we see things differently. But for the speaker in Entomology, it seems, it was always this way:

My mother once told me they had my brother
because she found me in the conservatory
talking to bluebottles.
      [‘Bluebottle’]

‘Bluebottle’ (like all the other poems here) is a sonnet. The half-rhymes have both a precision and an apparent randomness: ‘arse/stairs’, ‘jar/singular’ that reward examination. There’s much to pore over here, and the sonnet form underpins and enriches the layers of meaning as human experience is compared with the mysteries of the insect world.

In ‘Seven-Spot Ladybird’, the poet buys someone ‘slippers — red cotton bouclé / with little faces, two eyes, a nose, a smile’ and ‘a wooden box where all the ladybirds /of her garden might safely hibernate.’ And, then, a month, or, perhaps, a lifetime later, after the poet has spent ‘a hundred nights pillowed up / reading and drifting thinly on the pain’

                  [ ... ] she picked her way through
 the chaos of my kitchen, and made me soup.

In ‘Emperor Dragonfly’ the speaker writes about how she came home to her parents after her divorce. She remembers a dragonfly, and ‘The integument / of a nymph.’ The strangeness of that phrase led me to watch an RSPB YouTube film I would never otherwise have watched. I saw the Emperor Dragonfly nymph emerging from its ‘integument’ — the tough outer exterior — to become, in adult form, a thing of beauty. We are, all, like the speaker’s aging parents in ‘Emperor Dragonfly’, many versions of ourselves.

Aileen Ballantyne