Monday, 27 October 2014

Since we're adding some reviews... Things of Substance by Liz Cashdan in Orbis


Things of Substance: New and Selected Poems by Liz Cashdan, 156pp, £8.99, Five Leaves Publications, PO Box 8786, Nottingham NG 9AW

At the heart of this collection is a deep need to teach the next generation about the past. Reading this volume is to be invited into a long-lived life, with its own texture and significance. Objects carry the sense of an era as well as a family history, as in ‘Bakelite Telephone’, 'square and squat with joined / ear and mouthpiece, balanced nicely / on the crossbar of the telephone frog', bringing life-changing news: ‘From Barts it relayed my father’s death, / sealed the selling of the family house.’
   The poet swings through her own past, from object to object, and brings back to the reader a world where a child could have her tonsils removed on the table where she does her homework. There are Wordsworthian moments, as in ‘Lost Time,’ we are recollecting in tranquillity, drawing back from 'years ago' the sound and feel of trekking in the Lake District, where the one-inch map 'is all / I've had to keep the singing beck in tune, to keep / the dizziness of the mountain spinning in my head'. A beautiful image, 'look where the beck slips its stony collars' brings this world with a rush to the mind's eye.
   The new work bring us up to date with the author’s present life, and the predominantly ‘plain style’ conveys the energy with which she relishes the good times and the stoicism of her acceptance of life's inevitable losses - illness, stiff joints, broken bones - she's 'not bovvered.'
   The lived life is there on every page.  There is joy in new experiences, new tastes, the first time she eats an avocado, ice-cream 'slithering' down a sore throat, physical life is embraced and everywhere her celebration of the tangible substance of the natural world.
   Adventurous and educational travel inform us of the poet’s concern for politics and the conditions people endure in diverse cultures and we see many curious things en route, such as Gagarin’s appendix in Moscow. We are invited to the ancient past in ‘The Tyre-Cairo Letters’ sequence. We identify with the fractured relationship between Sadaka and his father in 1090. The poet teases out politics, religious differences and the problems with arranged marriages in this part of the world through epistolatory poems.
   The third section is ‘A Guide to Hospitals.’ It deals with health setbacks, of the poet and others and contemplates the selfless life of Henrietta Lacks, 'She dies but her cancer cells keep / growing’, the black American woman who had her cells removed by the medical profession without her permission and who has unknowingly advanced the study of cancer.
   This collection celebrates a life well-lived: poet, teacher, mother, grandmother, Liz Cashdan reaches out to all of us to urge us not only to get on with things but, despite the obstacles we encounter, to do it with gusto.

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