Poetry Shelf reviews Liz Breslin’s Alzheimer’s and a Spoon – this collection cuts into your skin as reader

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Alzheimer’s and a Spoon, Liz Breslin, Otago University Press, 2017

 

‘You have measured out your life in online quizzes. You are

a meerkat, Hufflepuff, Janet Frame.’

 

from ‘Click HERE to start’

 

Reading Liz Breslin’s debut collection, Alzheimer’s and a Spoon, is a timely reminder that poetry is a scoop for missing things. I am thinking spoon-scoop not breaking news. Even the cup on the table as I write is as hollow as it is present. I cannot remember the details of each morning at breakfast when I sip green tea. I cannot remember the thoughts I had, the articles I read, or the things I said. The cup is my breakfast hollow that contains any number of fading secrets. When I write poetry I might be scooping physical details of the present in order to chart a drifting mind and feeling heart but life is a mis-en-abyme of hard-to-decipher hollows.

For Liz the hollow is so much more resonant and sharp when the hollow is her grandmother, her babcia. A devout Catholic and a soldier in Warsaw’s uprising, the grandmother had Alzheimer’s disease in the last years of her life. It meant for Liz, the past was missing in a missing present.

 

the glass with the frame in

with holes in for looking

the white thing that holds

the white liquid for tea

 

from ‘riddle me these’

 

The collection draws you into the hollow of remembering and borrowing and excavating a woman, a beloved grandmother, and in that gathering all manner of things assemble: spam mail, passport rules, spoons, more spoons:

 

(..) I spoon feed stories

of my own uprisings, lost

 

in the hurry to move on, away.

Surprised at how little I

remember of me.

 

from ‘Spoon theory’

 

The words twitch on the line and I want to hear them in the air to soak up the aural agility.

 

Hold it for hours

in the sink of the kitchen

in a day drowned

dark without wondering.

 

from ‘How to make a cup of tea’

 

Visually the book is also on the move with cut-out words on some pages reforming to make poetry on the page. The movement underlines the memory fracture, akin to radio static, so we won’t forget that this life is a life hard to pin down. In a poem that calls upon a physical thing, a set of amber beads, the hunger to make chains is striking.

 

I am threading amber beads

from your old unbroken chain.

Some I will string for Lauren Marie.

She has of you her gymlegs,

fat plaits, doilies, feist.

 

from ‘Eulogy at the Oxford Oratory’

 

The final stanza cuts through to why this collection cuts into your skin as reader:

 

Warm with memory, some will

spill. Some I’ll keep in corners,

hidden glimmers. Much has been lost.

 

Liz’s debut offers a poetry thicket that snares and scratches your skin. I have read it at least five times because I am still finding my way through the dark and the light patches. Wonderful!

 

I hear the whispers of your stalwart war

but never from your tongue, never for real

it’s just stories, right? black and grey, blurry

 

from ‘dichotomy’

 

Otago University Press page

Liz Breslin website

ODT feature

Listen to Liz read

 

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