REVIEWED BY TRICIA GILBEY
Esther Morgan (Bloodaxe Books Ltd:2005)
‘Every house contains a room that doesn’t exist
where we find ourselves almost at home
behind this skim of horsehair plaster,
the roses breathing into your ear.’
This is the last verse of Esther Morgan’s poem, ‘Mistress’, which is included in: The Silence Living in Houses (2005: Bloodaxe) The other collection I shall refer to is Grace, (2011: Bloodaxe) which was shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot prize. Since I won a copy of Grace in a New Angles Prize raffle some years ago, Esther Morgan has become one of my favourite poets.
I think this verse sums up these two volumes. There is something unsettling between these pages. In The Silence Living in Houses Esther has the uncanny knack of pulling out the past, of summoning those who lived in these houses before. Esther also has the great gift of suggesting the past is right here, in the present, yet not entirely present but floating like dust motes, until she chooses a careful image, which twists our perception and skewers that ghost, pinning it precisely to the page. This present past can be disconcerting—some of the people who lurk here are not always those you would want to resurrect. I was interested to see that at the time of writing these poems, Esther was dividing her time between freelance arts projects and working for Social Services in their Child Protection Department.
Grace is suffused with light, with lightness, with reaching for, or waiting for something just out of reach…of expectancy and loss. It is mostly a book about women but that feeling of stretching towards something which has perhaps already gone is universally resonant. The images in Grace are particularly sensory and beautiful—'the stars moving in their slow herds,’ ‘a hare’s ear/shot through with sun’ ‘a red deer delicately eating/each closed tulip like a prayer’ and, as Esther says in ‘Woman in Blue Holding a Letter’ -
‘where even the spaces between things
are part of the meaning.’