Review of A Prism for the Sun by Rose Flint
Published by Oversteps Books, Devon 2015 by Fiona Hamilton
Rose Flint's fifth collection A Prism for the Sun opens our senses to birds, animals, elements, flora, while attentively contemplating human involvement with other-than-human worlds. She draws us close, almost inside, each moment, offering shifting perspectives on these interconnections, giving spaces for us to consider their prismatic forms.
In 'Marking china-blue' the physical sensation of cold sea on hands begins the poem. The lines achieve a fluidity as the poet attempts to ‘pull’ waves forward and they separate braid-like around her fingers. This interconnects with thoughts of the writer or artist’s efforts to mark or record a colour - aquamarine - or a state. By staying with the motions of the waves, body and water become almost indistinguishable:
how tides fall through my body so I am rain
laced in the breakers, rolled so small, over and over
In surrendering to the element the poet - and the reader - experience a sense of deeper renewal:
This is how I am returned to love.
Throughout the collection the reader is invited to share in experiences of love, rapture, grief, discomfort, uncertainty, joy. Flint shows the reader a cornucopia of textures, colours, scents. Darker, more precarious threads are present too. The fragility of ecosystems is evident in dwindling flocks of goldfinch and lapwing who lack protection in monochrome human-defined landscapes. A visit to ‘The Frozen Ark’ shows endangered species ‘curled into a single speckle/ of their DNA', each animal’s DNA preserved in a vial, rendered no bigger than the freckles on the poet's skin. The complexities of the ‘human hand’ in this tragedy are evident: this is also the hand that has carefully assembled the frozen archive, with a view to a future. The poet’s hand, meanwhile, offers tentative redemption by conjuring post-human worlds where the magnificent cats might step out of the mist once again.
Bereavement, actual and potential, is held and contemplated within a bigger landscape that offers solace and renewal of varying kinds. While there is an elegiac note in some of the poems, the human and natural worlds are never placed in simple bilateral opposition. Humans are kind as well as destructive – one is lovingly viewed ‘attending to small hungers’ by feeding birds in a bitter March wind, an act of resilience and hope, sacred in its way:
you are binding the bright song-book through
this sharp March garden of sombre hedges
and shut wildflowers, into summer dawns
Graceful as birds themselves, the words lift off into the future tense and wheel back into present and continuous tenses, making a song of joy in which human gesture, birdsong, sun, and the act of writing intermingle and crescendo together into another renewal of love.
Combining thoughtfulness with a keen artist’s eye, the poet brings fresh understandings of how violence and destruction also play their part, and of possible responses. In the opening poem, a sparrowhawk is a ‘vivid barbarian’ – so why is he so alluring and desirable?
He is structure to hold the song. He is shadow and scythe
Setting each moment of wild light flying in glory.
Later in the collection, there is a visceral encounter with hornets, provoking revulsion, fear and discomfort as survival instincts kick in. In ‘The tenderness of men’ a list of human cruelties feels relentless until it softens into a freer form in which these human miseries and deficits become part of a wider, more generous universe perceived by the writer.
Flint’s extensive experience as a writer in healthcare settings and for the Kingfisher Project in Salisbury District Hospital has brought her into close contact with the many astonishments and sorrows of such environments. In a sequence in the last section of the book, everyday transformations are illuminated and the possibilities for healing explored. The miraculous is never shouted about but tenderly noted. In these hospital interiors full of man-made instruments, the natural world is strongly and vividly present as well. Human hands are depicted as expert and compassionate: a carefully-wrought sonnet succinctly depicts the precision of a surgeon at work. ‘Elements of Healing’ pares back modern medical tools and potions to their elemental processes, restoring a beauty and sense of connection with nature’s healing properties in lines that obtain a soothing, benedictory tone.
In A Prism for the Sun Flint makes visible what is often obscured in the hurly burly of busy, speedy, technological life. I wanted to describe the collection as ‘mouth-watering’ although the description didn’t quite seem to fit. Then I re-read ‘When there is a word for joy’, the last poem in the book, where medical terms, words for delicious foods, and exotic words are juxtaposed, forming a small lexicon in which we taste joy, and in tasting it are convinced it is available not only to others, but here, now, in these words, for ourselves. This is a heart-lifting, joyous collection, a healing read, one that left me with a feeling of deep gratitude.
Bite Sized by Fiona Hamilton.
Published by Vala Publishers September 2014. A story of a mother striving to nourish her child, of the impact of an eating disorder, the modern-day monster of ‘too much’ and ‘not enough’, and threads that connect, entangle, unravel and stretch, between parents and children. Above all, a story of taking on monsters and trusting in the importance of love.
Launch event on 21st September in Bristol and reading in London on 25th September: http://www.valapublishers.coop/bitesized