Liz Almond's new collection introduces us to a wide world, full of sensual pleasures but also of cruelties, pains and dangers which she suggests we must actively face and face down if we are to live life to the full.
Rosita Rules the Roost illustrates some of the strengths of her writing: a powerful, instantly gripping opening, visual clarity and force, the rhythms of emphatic speech:
She howls her way up the cobbles,
demented, bereaved, demented
leans on her whittled stick
A list of its opening lines would give an immediate impression of the sheer vitality of this work, and of how dominated it is by verbs of action. I was going to say that Almond's poetry is filled with life by how much and strongly she forms her lines around verbs, but in a sense that would be the wrong way round. She uses verbs like that because that is how her poetry sees the world: as a place where everything is active and alive:
Effortlessly, instinctively, my hibiscus
unfurls her new petals
wet as wings
One feels that in some ways she wants to live as effortlessly and instinctively as the hibiscus, but a human must think and respond to the contradictoriness of the world, as Almond does, both in the tonal complexities of individual lines and in more explicit and sustained reflection. It's in the first form that I enjoy the effect most, for example in these lines where sensuous relish and satirical wit combine:
The man who's easy on the eye
has surface shimmer like gold leaf
Wit and humour pervade these poems, sometimes appearing as rueful or tart accommodations to life's constraints, sometimes as expressions of an exuberance of imagination that can be positively surreal. The range of human interests, the vivid, light-filled scenes of southern Europe, the Middle East and India, the sharp eye for cultural exchanges and misunderstandings and the warm humanity of the poet's feelings all make this a collection to relish. Admittedly I sometimes felt the poems lived most fully in their parts and that as wholes they could be a little too loosely woven. In some I felt a slackening of rhythmical or syntactical drive, and in others I felt that at the end of the poem the poet didn't quite know how to develop the energies she'd brought into play in its main body, but the collection remained one I admired and enjoyed.