Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

Run by HappenStance Press

The First Telling – Gill McEvoyCover of the pamphlet. Plain title underneath which image is a blue bell plant, and one spire of flowers is broken.
HappenStance, 2014   £4.00

The integrity of circles

Circularity is immediately apparent in the number of tellings – the magical number of seven in total (though of course there are so many more tellings between and around these) which denotes both completeness and repetition.

The nature of trauma and post trauma is so often the circle, the return – the revisiting and pacing out of familiar territory until it can be reclaimed, inhabited. The structure of this collection reflects that need for circularity and proves it.

Circles can also be found in the image bank that McEvoy draws on and at every level of the language she uses. The poems have roses opening, keys turning, mouths – so many mouths, a wreath of feathers, bowls, circles of women, eggs, eyes, pearls. This is a world of round things, things that roll, turn, form circles as part of their very being.

Draw a circle and it is a space – there is nothing in the middle. This sense of spaciousness and painful lack, like a mouth that has no words, is ever present and most delicately played out through the collection. It reaches its fullest expression in the terrible truth of the ending of the penultimate poem, ‘The Seventh Telling’ – ‘No words. // No words.’

At the level of recurring phonemes, it is striking how often the circles of ‘o’ (pronounced ‘oh’) and ‘oo’ and ‘ou’ (pronounced ow) recur in the poet’s lexicon for this collection. In the first poem ‘Outside the window’ these sounds appear not only twice in the title and twice in the first line, but again in the pleading ‘How’ of the seventh line. They are long sounds uttered in pain and they echo through almost all the poems.

Correspondingly, the short ‘o’ sound as in ‘cock’, ‘cloth’, ‘locked’, ‘longer’, ‘drops’, ‘totter’, ‘sobbing’, ‘nod’, ‘stop’ is associated with an almost stuttered pain – one that is held in, stifled or repressed.

It’s rare to find a group of poems in which the guiding principle and idea so consistently and expertly carries and forms the whole and the parts. The resulting integrity here is stunning.

Clare Best