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The Garden of Forgetting

Written by Ralph Thompson for n/a on no date provided

There are a number of ways a man my age can pay a compliment to a beautiful woman and I want to tell Gwyneth right up front how much I like her new hairstyle. Now we can all see what a strong and noble head she has and when you read her poems in The Garden of Forgetting you will see what a strong and noble heart she has as well.

I was flattered when Gwyneth asked me to launch her first collection, a striking production by Peepal Tree Press in the UK with a wonderful cover painting by Roberta Stoddart that captures the spirit of the 50 poems which make up the collection. I have followed Gwyneth’s work for years in the Arts Section of the Observer but it has been a special joy to be able to read then in one book in which their juxtaposition and interaction with each other adds to the excitement. It is a poetic adventure that I highly recommend to you.

When all is said and done, perhaps courage is the greatest of the virtues for without courage there would be no conviction and without conviction there can be no poetry and without poetry there can be no civilization. It is as simple and as profound as that.

Courage is playing the hand you are dealt with grace and steadfastness. In aesthetic terms, it is the act of confronting loss, wrestling with it like Jacob and the archangel, eventually subduing it and caging it within a proper poetic form, Gwyneth makes specific reference to courage in the poem entitled For ‘Auld Lang Syne’ which ends with this lovely image:

Courage only rises in the throat of grief --
as when the wounded deer one last time stands
on the shadowy outline of a hill,
its signature against the sky.

Some lives seem to suffer from an excess of plot -- I said plot, not pot -- and poetry is sometimes the best way to cope with pressure. After all, a diamond is coal’s response to the press if the earth.

Gwyneth has many gems in her first collection, a range of themes. The breakup of a marriage, an alcoholic saved by an understanding love:

He was saved...
Not by the black beauty mole on her raisin mouth
but by the tilt of her stillness,
someone who loved at last, without
conditions, who didn’t nag about
the sauce.

There is gratitude in poetic mentoring:

Each time I roll
words half way up that hill
I think of bamboo bent in the wind and do not falter
as I write this in your honour.

Wayne Brown I suspect.

There are poems of resignation and the joys of a mature love. And poems about pain, one of which ends with the recognition that

In the face of your sorrow
the white black blinks and turns away.

There is a poem about violent death, uncannily understated:

A sound like a sling-shot dropping a white wing in sultry August
and with the city looking on, a stain lengthened on concrete.

The poem ‘The Fan Palm’ is a favourite of mine. A father in a taxi with his daughter is trailing his mistress. At a cross roads the taxi’s old-fashioned trafficator is turned on, ‘a lizard flickering an amber warning’ -- not only a perfect description but symbolic of a wrong turn perhaps. When the father dies, no one thins about his old time, lonely lover. It ends with an inspired trope, the daughter musing:

I stub out my cigarette and watch a humming-
bird fly backward from a flower as if
recoiling from the pain of its beauty or its own
as silent as the sorrow looking on.

A lesser poet might conceive of a humming-bird attracted to a flower as a metaphor for love and passion. But to have the bird fly backward from the beauty that attracts it but which it cannot have -- is masterful.

Thank you Gwyneth for asking me to launch your first collection but above all thank you for your wonderful poems.

This is a review of The Garden of Forgetting

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