All the Relevant Gods, Robin Houghton
Cinnamon Press, 2018 £4.99
This collection wears its travels lightly, with a wry humility. Although Robin Houghton writes compellingly here and elsewhere about her time working and travelling for a global shoe brand, there are also discoveries to be made and new angles revealed in small pockets of East London, Suffolk and Cumbria.
The opening poem 'Old Ground' is a perfect launch pad. A map becomes the territory, and handling it provides an almost Proustian experience of travel, a sensuously described gateway to Australia. ‘I feel it / in my pocket — spring-loaded, ready to bounce away’.
Several poems — 'Handmade in Guangzhou', 'All the Relevant Gods', 'First Salsa in Cusco' — brilliantly explore the awkwardness of being a foreigner, but also the possibilities that travel offers of opening ourselves up to something new and precious.
The personal journey continues in 'She Discovered the Internet'. In one sense what is discovered is an escape from corporate hell but it’s also portrayed as an actual act of pioneer exploration, a kind of first contact producing a fierce sense of ownership: ‘I guarded it like a cat guards a bird with one wing: mine, mine.’
Meanwhile 'Searching for the Police Tower, Orford Ness' captures that illusory sense of purpose we feel when embarking on a trip to find something. But on the bleak North Sea coast the object of the journey is ‘spat out onto shingle / with the rest’. ‘What is there left to find?’
The collection ends with 'Two Honeymoons', paired poems showing how we meet ourselves when we travel, and give our memories of relationships to the places we visit. In the first, a muddy and disappointing trip to the Lake District amounts to only a ‘blurred expression’ in a photograph. In the second, all of Venice is gorgeously present although the couple — ‘naked and joyous as cherubim’ — hardly even leave their room.