A Sprig of Rowan — Rebecca Gethin
Three Drops Press, 2017 £6.00
What hasn’t happened yet
You couldn’t throw a stone without hitting a poem about bees a couple of years ago, and it feels like selkies are the new bees. Gethin talks in an online interview about using events she’s witnessed and turning them into poems, e.g. ‘a pony [ ... ] encountered on a beach becomes a Kelpie’, and seeing selkies and supernatural magic on the back of this book nearly put me off due to a natural aversion to anything mentioning folklore and witchcraft.
The previously mentioned interview also discusses the way use of folklore can act as a way of dealing with deeper traumas and you can certainly sense trauma lurking in the book. We see it in ‘Seal Skin’ where the seals change to humans and back again — apart from the ‘one who got caught / by the hand [ ... ], or at the forge of a blacksmith converting raw materials to a horse’s shoe in ‘Blacksmith’ — the poem carries the implied threat of ‘I was always glad to get out of there in one piece’.
However, what stands out the most, for me, is the writer’s pervasive use of light and dark. Of 28 poems, my calculations suggest that roughly half contain references to light or darkness, ranging from the ‘honeyed moon… / resting its burden of light / on the fricative ocean’ in ‘Midsummer’ to the seals in ‘Seal Skin’ that ‘dance round / the pile of skins [...] / their eyes [ ... ] larger and darker / in the moonlight'.
The strongest poems, in my view, are the ones where the folklore is reigned in, for example in ‘Fogou’ where the protagonist runs through the eponymous underground chamber — and ‘maybe [ ... ] what matters here / is what hasn’t yet happened’. This is a dark turn for a poem that starts with luminous moss and ends with something seriously scary. That’s light and dark in action and the poem is all the stronger for it.
I came to this book unsure of what to expect, but leave it intrigued enough to see what Rebecca Gethin does next.