This is Geraldine Paine's first collection, but she has been publishing in magazines and performing her poems with the group Scatterlings for some time. She is widely read and travelled, and has been an actress and a magistrate, among other things, so she has seen and done plenty and has a lot of interesting observations to make on her experiences. Of course that wouldn't count for much if she did not also have a way with words, but luckily she has a great feeling for them. Her sequence "Leaden Hearts" consists of partly-found poems derived from convict tokens - these men and women, leaving their homes and families for transportation to the other side of the world, left tokens with last messages for loved ones. Often enough, they were illiterate and had to trust strangers to write these for them. Paine's obvious feeling for them comes partly from being a naturally kindly person, but also, I suspect, from her sense of how terrible it would be to be deprived of words like that, to have to depend on others to express one's thoughts:
She asked help from friends who couldn't spell,
then couldn't tell if the nail-stippled words
were what she needed to say
before the Eden sailed via the Cape
into Botany Bay. She used her initials,
drew her cottage, her dog and two trees
for my dear
farther from is
is Going out
of her cottage
Paine's own command of words comes through constantly, both in exuberance ( "The Pink Shop")
The high street leans, a row of Kent pegs run aground.
The Goodwins, North Knob, Elbow. Square riggers circling,
smacks wrecked, sailors' cries still found in the seagull voice
of crones, drenching her with bowheads, bowsprits, bowlines
and in the laconic, as in "Brief Encounters", where a seedy roué
looks for the anonymity of certain hotels,
finds comfort in the girl with dirty nails
who takes his name. She cares less. It suits him well.
The sardonic tone of that is perhaps not entirely typical; Paine can do sardonic, and even sometimes angry, but she is fundamentally a rather life-affirming poet who looks for the redeeming quality in any person or situation. In her series of "Zimbabwe Songs" she is very aware, from personal experience, of the dreadful state of affairs in that country, but also of its beauty and the spirit of its people. "The Man Who Knows Flowers" celebrates the long-standing friendship between an aging gardener, Chenga, and his equally elderly lady employer, a relationship of mutual needs and understanding which transcends class, race and gender.
Paine finds reason to celebrate in many different places. (Often inspired by art in various forms, she owes the sublime poem title "American Bison De-Frosting" to a wildlife photograph by Mervyn D Coleman.) But as often as not, it comes back to people and their mutual need, the way they can make life more bearable by behaving well to each other or just being there. "When We See Gloves" illustrates not only this, but Paine's assurance in her own craft. There's a lot of skill in this little poem, but nothing fancy or contrived; it feels no need to find clever ways of saying something fundamental:
When we see gloves, we see a pair
stitched at the wrist, together,
to be sold and bought as one.
But gloves get lost, left behind,
separated by carelessness
or the pushing and pulling of crowds.
Your glove lies in a bucket
of apples. When the spring comes
I'll wear it and garden left-handed.
My right hand has gone.
The Go-Away-Bird is on amazon.co.uk and there's also order information here from the publisher.