Sarah Wimbush won the Mslexia Poetry Pamphlet Competition 2019 with this slim yet seductively insidious collection. Wimbush’s verses creep in under collar and cuff, sending shivers across your scalp.
Weaving in the salt and pepper of Traveller idioms, Wimbush draws us into a journey through her own heritage, where we meet heroes and queens of lanes and fields.
You’ll learn some gorgeous terms along the way: “nose warmer” for pipe, “hedge mumper’ for tramp, and “drum” for road, as well as less familiar words, such as “yog” for fire and “chokka” for shoes. Some felt familiar without me knowing why – “mush” for man, for instance, and “shushti” for rabbit. It all adds to the richness of the telling.
In some poems Wimbush conjures the litany of a life in just a handful of lines, such as with Our Jud, who “rarely missed a fisticuffing up the Old Blue Bell./ And that time calmed the lady’s filly bolting up the road.” Each sentence has the fireside flavour of a blustering anecdote, yet summons facets of courage, heart and honour beside the bravado. Any of us could be proud to be seen as clearly as Wimbush describes Jud.
And yes, there is romance in much of the lustrous imagery, but unfrilled and honest. There’s a nod to the rebellious, the eternally loyal and the larking, with hints of hardship and hard work among revelries.
The smallest details, selected with evident care, help to sculpt the impression of a three-dimensional world. Wimbush writes of ten partridge eggs shared between eight, “Each bite/ Fresh as today’s sunrise”, and of “twilight unfolding its flittermouse wing”, of sisters scouring “the slack” and “twisting gold into hats”, and of feeling “rain coming/ by the weight of the wind.”
This isn’t Wimbush’s first win with poetry – she’s previously won and placed in Poetry Book Society competitions. Mslexia’s judge, Seren editor Amy Wack, says of the poems, ”They are composed with an adroit technique, formal skill, a Chaucerian sense of exuberant action.”
It’s clear that this marginalised, tightknit community comprises a language Wimbush is fluent in, with a feel for words and how to settle them as skilfully as her ancestors turned pipes in jars to rushlights. Reading the pamphlet offers glimpses of sunlit verges and rising smoke, of hunger and humour and a sought-out separation from society that makes them as exotic on the page as mother-of-pearl buttons, threads and “a bud of lace.”
Sensuous, textured and riddled through with landscapes, these are poems that will bring you to your door to reconvene with seasons.
What are you reading? I’d love to know. I’m always happy to receive reviews of books, art, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a book review, please send an email to judydarley(at)iCloud.com.