Poetry review – The Estate Agent’s Daughter by Rhian Edwards

The Estate Agents Daughter book coverOpening her collection with the title poem, Rhian Edwards immediately sets the tone: wryly humorous, unabashed, yet slightly self-depreciating, as she describes herself in the terms of a property complete with a ”white dogleg staircase”. With lines such as “Her writing desk has been nudged to the brink/ of the bay” and “cable-knit cardigans draped across Ikea chairs come as standard”, I feel I’m gaining an instantly relatable image of the poet in Part One.

‘House Share’ is a clear demonstration of Edwards’ observational acuity as we find ourselves in the midst of an apartment that is “a dog-eared novel, laced in saliva” where a lethargic Labrador “pricks up/ her envelope flap of an ear” before collapsing “into a coil of herself.” It’s so vividly written that I feel I know this dozy dog and the affection both felt by and towards her.

In ‘Blodeuwedd’, Edwards transports us to the refreshed realms of folklore – alongside a litany of wild blossoms, there’s a cry here for liberation, as the goddess laments a threading of “petals into stitches/ caging them within the warp/ and weft of this wifery.”

Even when writing of a goddess, Edwards has a knack for seeking out and shining up the intimately ordinary until “Flower Face” could be a neighbour.

In Part Two’s opening poem ‘It Is’, Edwards celebrates the seemingly commonplace until you find yourself sighing in satisfied agreement about “the revelation of the runny yolk/ after the egg has been scalped” and the “the clemency of dressing yourself/ in clothes hung and warmed by the fire”. There’s such pleasure in those lines that I want to copy them out and carry them with me, always, as armour against the world.

The motivation for these evocations becomes clear ‘Describe The Pain’, and Edwards struggles to find the words to do as the doctor asks. Arthritis is “taking root”, “a livid twin absorbed.” In ‘The Abacus of Stamina”, stair climbs are rationed, and Edwards “strews pillows” to ease passage to “the sirening of the cot” while grieving the physical facility she has lost. It’s heartbreaking yet there’s still humour here and in the ensuing poems; a sense of the poet gently mocking herself as she battles with ‘The Art of Fastening” with fingers like chopsticks. The metaphors Edwards constructs are often faintly comical, yet utterly, precisely apt.

Edwards ushers us towards other fond eyeroll moments in ‘I Am Turning’ “into the woman who affixes/ the stickers of her house number/ to the face of her recycling bins.” It’s a line I can imagine hearing delivered in a pub to delighted squawks of camaraderie. Yet other lines are constructed with startling beauty: she is “mirroring the kinks of my spotless mother”; “edifying into a judicious pot washer”; “sophisticating into a paragon of symmetry.” It makes me want to nod wisely and reassure, and then trot to the bar to order another bottle of red.

In Part Three we move into the conflicts, passions and confusions of romantic love, and again Edwards shares the everyday marvels of her circumstances. In ‘He is the Kind’, she introduces us to the man who “brings two mugs of tea to bed in the morning,/ both of which are for himself”, and I find myself instantly bridling on her behalf. ‘My Clocks Pester Him’ has a fairytale quality with a dark undertone, as each of her clocks are gagged in turn, marooning the couple in “loveless silence”.

I feel I’ve soaked up versions of these confessions through conversations with close friends, yet here they are rendered with a skill that makes each reflection gleam. Edwards is a poet unafraid of casting her sharp gaze and semantic wizardry on herself. It’s no wonder that we can’t help wanting to spend more time in the warmth of her sunlight.

The Estate Agent’s Daughter by Rhian Edwards is published by Seren Books and is available to buy from here.

This book was given to me in exchange for a fair review.

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