Drawing on myths to make sense of our mortality, Claire Williamson’s first collection with Seren is at once heartbreaking and comfortingly human, with the skill to make your spirits soar.
Seen through Williamson’s eyes, a half bull, half man hybrid is nothing compared to the complexities of surviving your average childhood. From the aching tenderness with which she knits memories about her own daughters to the grief and confusion of losing a sibling and mother, Williamson immerses you with such conviction that you can’t help but empathise.
There’s a distinct irreality to much of the carefully conjured imagery, which only serves to heighten the stark honesty of the sensations being shared. Family members long gone return as horses: “She thrusts her black muzzle/ into the cleft of my torso and arm/ and I feel her warmth for the first time/ since she drank that poison.”
Bereavement is a theme throughout, but even in the bleakest contemplations, Williamson manages to find humour in the moments she captures.
Questions about family run like a vein, or a seam of quartz, through Claire Williamson’s pamphlet Split Ends. She guides through the catacombs of her search for her biological parents and what this means in terms of identity, at times head on as in She Thought Her Father was a Butcher and Red Herrings, at others at a slant that seems full of glinting motes.
Of the latter, Minotaur sent shivers through me. Elegantly told, this is both a lament and expression of hope. In the poem’s most chilling moments, the bull-headed creature of the title speaks of the “seven petrified children” brought as food, then being devoured only by each other in the desperate hunger of the dark. Including a glimpse of young Icarus adds a wonderful spark to the poem’s ending.
In other poems we’re offered a portrait of grandparents – the grandfather “who taught us kids to read a clock”, and the grandmother, described through the poignant details of the house she made “a home.” In After the Hanging, we meet Williamson’s brother, and feel her pain as she writes of his suicide with an extraordinarily raw beauty.
Others glow with Williamson’s love for her daughters, and touch on the pain of separation by “cross winds, no rest-stops,/ hard shoulder, the motorways.” Continue reading