Claire Crowther’s second collection, The Clockwork Gift (Shearsman Press, 2009), shows its intent from the outset. In the first poem, ‘Petra Genetrix’, there’s the precise, economic language and emotional resonance that characterises her imagery:
Lines get broken.
All I see in museums
is the frozen watchfulness of a previous home.
The poems fuse the past and future together, meditate on the nature of memory and on how one generation finds its echoes in another – the child becomes an adult, the adult becomes a child. ‘Sleeping on a Trampoline’ juxtaposes impressions and images to build up a mysterious scene, inhabited by both threat and humour. The imagery is vivid and sensuous. Coming down from a mystical trampoline bounce that lasts a few minutes, the narrator’s feet
plunge into sturdy skin, the palm throws me
back at a long day’s sky like a duck, shuttlecock,
bee, the smack of body against my bones,
not-hug, not-massage, not-relax-you’re-cared-for,
only a continent moving by my right shoulder.
The sounds, the timing, the clear sense of poetic line – the craft is top-rate. It’s an astonishing poem, which concerns a ‘thike’ (a mythical, small, furry animal, which features in several poems) somehow in human form. Claire Crowther weaves fragments of imagery together to create a picture which is strange, sinister, and haunting. The layered repetition and variations require attention, several reads, and illustrate why this is not the kind of collection you can rush through and pop back on the shelf.
‘Age Refuses a Grandmother’ concerns a ‘tower woman’, alluding to the Rapunzel fairy tale (‘My turret captures girls with long hair/ and longings to be locked up in’). The woman looks out at her father and at (I think) a child. The poem refers to grandmothers who are long gone and yet somehow still present (‘There they sit, full of tea, as young as you.’). The conclusion is typical of poems in this book. It doesn’t try to sum everything up neatly. Instead, it moves in to deeper, discomforting territory and lodges itself in the mind of the reader:
Turret room, it’s not easy to make it cosy,
its back against the wall of a tower house.
A playground swing. It swirls its iron round
your head. Dangerous rocking.
If there is any justice in the world, this book will be on the shortlists for all the prizes this year, not just the usual suspects.