I came to Light-fall by Lucy Ingrams (Flarestack Poets, 2019) after hearing the poet read. I was immediately struck by her attention to text, to meanings, sound and cadence so that every syllable seems to justify its location. Most of these poems are set outside, in the woods, in the fields, near the sea but the texts work at different levels, hinting at human stories and drama played out in a context where natural detail is of profound and felt importance.
‘Today’ is constructed around an opposition of self and a loved other where:
you watch the sea from the doorway, while I study grasses…
Self (the poet) is content to focus on close-up detail outside and ‘come back tuned to fine-jointed staves,/ shy-coloured panicles.’ The other, however, looks out to sea and notes the loss of the horizon; together they mourn as ‘a low fleece/ of fog wraps the chord-line between’ sea and sky. Ingrams’ ability to combine figurative language with scientific exactitude ‘shy-coloured panicles’ gives her writing extraordinary authority. The musical imagery is an undernote suggesting the loss and recreation of harmony between the couple which is led by the speaker who shows the other ‘the frail/fastenings, like hair, weaving Earth to the air’ so that their shared vision becomes whole gain, or ‘regains curvature’. It is not clear what the subject of this final verb is; it could be the Earth or it could be an unstated whole which is either a human relationship or a view of the universe. As we reach the end of the poem, we realise that we have been reading a slightly deconstructed love sonnet.
Indeed, many of the poems are unobtrusively love poems where emotions are worked out through the language of the natural world. In ‘Signs’ the poet demands to read nature as a code, echoing the childhood game of pulling petals off a daisy to discover ‘whether you loved me loved me not’. Ingrams plays with and contrasts the covert meanings in the signs written in letters with the natural language of ‘fields/hung with signs of their own’. The poem reaches no conclusion but it adds lustre to love through the beauty of the images which are looked to for answers
I’m not whether you love me love me not
flowering stars on the blackthorn bars and at dusk
Sirius setting Leo rising or neither and both.
This is an example of the poet’s attention to lineation and spacing, which I have not managed to repeat accurately here. She is careful to use the way the text appears on the page to bring out its emphases and music.
‘So will there be apples’ is another love poem which seems to open with the hopefulness of spring: ‘all thought of / him rinsed with light… the hedges whisper in / new viridian dialects’. In the second stanza, doubt sets in with the desire for rain ‘when will it rain?’ and the threat or promise of fire ‘this blue match / to a log – flame licking /the emerald evenings.’ The third stanza invokes with all its connotations the mystery of the ‘greenwood’ which has somehow been there all along. Love becomes dangerous as perhaps the object of love is dangerous, or unnatural ‘”frost in May”‘ and the fire of passion is in danger of becoming a ‘conflagration’ but the protagonist of the poem persists in her quest despite the dark warnings of her friends: ‘she goes out she goes looking’. What is she looking for? – love, the forbidden apple, the mysterious promise offered by the greenwood?
‘Ship carver’ is a tribute to a craftsman and a reflection of the poet’s love of the sea which uses sea-related imagery with astonishing skill to convey the dedication of the carver to his work: ‘coiled shavings …foam at the door’, ‘dusk closes over, swift/as the sea takes a skiff’. Somehow the poem evokes maritime history as far back as the Vikings as she describes how the woodcarver dresses ‘a prow for the wind’s/hoops’ and all this although he is working in a ‘workshop keep / seventy miles from/the tidemark.’
Ingrams excels in conveying emotion through the phenomena and cycles of the natural world. In “August letter’ she appears to be grieving for someone who is lost to her, probably through death. She celebrates the meaning of August, as a pivotal point leading to winter:
‘I peer into its tunc/and trace a tiny counterpoint: snow hyacinths on a tablecloth,/winter coats on chairs pushed back, the smell of pears.’ I’m not sure about ‘tunc’; I assume it’s Latin and not as the online urban dictionary tells me, ‘male genitalia’. Occasionally, I feel Ingrams takes her adventurousness with language too far; I was also uncomfortable with the adverbial coinage ‘latticely’ (‘Blue Hour’) although I knew what it was saying. Here, conversely, I’m not sure what the word is saying but I enjoy its sound and positioning.
I will quote the last three stanzas of ‘August letter’ which brilliantly combine images of nature, ourselves in nature, light, death and loss.
The evenings here are long still, are they with you? Yet I find
I plant mine up with candlelight, burn apple wood – watch
the mirror catch and flush.
This month’s like that, a flare I want to boost. That even so
will carry summer out upon its bier. My fingers flutter like
the leaves to think of it.
In the dream, your hands were empty – full of your touch. If you
were here, I could put mine out and you could take them.
Lucy Ingrams has already won The Manchester Poetry Prize , 2015, and the Magma Poetry Competition, 2016. This is a pamphlet of outstanding quality from a poet whose work continues to develop and excite. I very much look forward to a full-length collection.