One Old Onion & Other Poems,
Images & Poems by Susan Wilson & Jenny Elliott
The Shed Press, Lucklaw Farm Cottages, Balmullo, Fife KY16 0AL, 2013
Element of surprise
Every now and then I stumble on something small and quirky, and am struck by its beauty. One gnarled root vegetable might appear like this. So does this chapbook. And I definitely think ‘chapbook’, not pamphlet. Though pocket-sized, it is a book: it has a spine. Its cover is a lovely indeterminate muddy green, with the texture of brown paper – that faint ironed-corduroy effect.
Open it up, and I’m instantly smiling: what on earth’s going on here? Every fourth page (including the first poem) is a folded one, with curved corners. I’m reminded of the comfort of old library tickets. The book feels delicate – held together by two large stitches – almost like an ancient artefact that might crumble to the touch. But it also has a strange designed solidity in keeping with its subject.
Susan Wilson’s ‘etchings’ are wonderful – not least, the sunshine-yellow surprise at the close of ‘Pumpkin Piece’. Echoing the subjects of the six Jenny Elliott poems inside they indicate ‘Neglected Beans’, ‘Mushrooms’, or indeed ‘One Old Onion’. And the poems are similarly sort-of humble while rich with the wisdom that comes from looking at small, seemingly insignificant things carefully. How much might we all learn from One Old Onion? (You’ll notice I can’t resist repeating the O O O…)
There are embedded wisdoms. ‘Potato Runner’ reads:
I coulda been so good for you….
boiled, mashed, roasted, steamed,
scalloped, chipped, chopped….
you name it bud, I coulda been a great spud,
but you didn’t look out for me.
‘Pumpkin Piece’ starts ‘an ancient fruit / a confusing family/ without boundaries’. And ‘One Old Onion’ says ‘I have always known / the inner me and how it has shaped the one you see.’
Read them. These poems sprout insight, humour, delight. Their illustrations lift the thing into a gorgeous whole. On the back cover, Einstein confirms ‘Human beings, vegetables, or cosmic dust – we all dance to a mysterious tune.’ Absorbing this work, I see it’s true.