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Review: Woman's Head as Jug, by Jackie Wills

JACKIE WILLS HAS a new book out too, Woman's Head as Jug (Arc Publications 2013, £8.99). There's a powerful six-part poem in it - "Translations from the Silence of Colour":

Even red, first and loudest, is silenced
as it totters into cornfields and flirts,
as it murmurs and smudges,
shelters under the rock
grunting words for deer, stream, placenta.

From somewhere in the mess of a peony
collapsed on a table, from veins in an eye,
the tip of a tampon, a sore and a crater,
red is smeared with its own absence:
what remains when there's no skin to paint on?

There is a poem for each of six colours. The piece is perceptive in its sense that colour is in a dimension apart from words, and though words may be used to invoke colour, colour remains a silent force. I've noticed this myself when painting water-colours. My thought is operating in the manipulation of the paint, but the experience of painting is not necessarily a language thing, though of course it can be. This poem is less reliant on synesthesia than on example, reference and metaphor. It reminds me that for some poets colour is an inspiring force - one feels this in the work of Georg Trakl. There is something of Trakl in the way Wills drops isolated images into a poem, allowing them to chime together, as in "Canopy":

"When boots left the path
in that forest,
the canopy hushed.

Each tree held back light,
mote by mote.
Ants stripped the bones.

The city creeps
up mountainsides
towards distant, painted shrines.

Thorns whiffle with ribbon,
a newborn's sock,
a doll's lace bra."

Many of the poems in this new collection are short, with the intensity of epigrams or Haiku, and Wills often threads nouns together like beads in an almost ceremonial process of naming. I tend to prefer her more extended poems, where she explores her origins, and also the origins of her environment - a poem concerning her great grandmother opens opposite a poem about the Lewes Road - so personal and geographic histories are both seen as carrying weight. At the same time, or concomitant to this idea, Wills is concerned with transience, and she is aware of how time causes disintegration. Wills knows how particular nouns amount to details that can typify a situation. She has a strong poem on the gutting of a house called "Dirty Business".

Jam-jars of screws are thrown into the van,
Barbara's sewing machine, John's car manuals,

half an exhaust pipe, swivel chair, three rusty saws.
With each crash I want to run next door.

Four lads and a girl from Dirty Business are tipping
the house into the garden. Paper, wood, metal, glass -

as Barbara did when words went missing.
On this forecourt every summer, they aired the trailer tent.

The street listens to a mallet shatter mirrors,
bolts fire from a tin - and a wind picks up the inventory."