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Review: The Shut Drawer, by Liz Almond

This is an interesting book and the ride suits it. The poems are receptacles for secrets - and metaphors of containment recur: the shut drawer, the cupboard, the bottle, the chest, the black box. The several containers are not unlike Pandora's: the truths that seep out are grievous and troubling, even though hope (and sometimes joy) is in there too.

The secretive nature of the writing is a strength but also sometimes a difficulty, I think. One is never in any doubt that each poem here is about something very specific, but sometimes the evasion of direct statement results in over-
extended metaphor. Cupboard Love, for example, which employs lovely repetitions and haunting phrases, explores imagery of shelves, secret drawers, handles and 'mother-of-pearl knobs' to good effect, but I am thrown by the ending:

The cupboard of longing
nurses old grievance
counter-sunk like screws
difficult to undo

You don't 'undo' a screw in its literal context: you surely unscrew a screw. The 'screws' are concrete and plural and the corresponding 'grievance' is abstract and singular, so although the rhyme does drive home both the difficulty and the sexual resonance, it doesn't feel quite right. Similarly, in Breast is Best, breast milk and writing connect metaphorically m the climactic last four lines:

The pull of mouth to nipple drives my nib,
it drinks ink greedily as any baby
and my breasts swell, harden, engorge
as I try to express myself better than ever before.

The rhetoric here seems to me too obvious, especially from a poet who exploits subtle suggestion so well elsewhere. That's the nit-picking done. I said it was an interesting collection, and it is. These are poems you want to spend time on, and you linger over them, puzzling over their secrets. Some of the poems evoke little narratives beautifully (< cite>Straw Unplaits Itself; The Saffron Slippers), while The Cornish Pasty exploits a speaking voice with expert control and momentum. And thereare beautiful phrases which stay with you, long after the poems are gone - the mark of a true poet - the pad of paws on pavement, a splash of Pernod on your pearly skin, The sea, the tears, / the shut drawer... The Shut Drawer is well worth opening.