NOTES FROM THE BALCONY

Indigo Dreams Publishing: 68 pages: £8.99: ISBN: 9781909357570

From: www.indigodreamsbookshop.com or usual sources


Lynn Woollacott writes with emotional intensity – a sister’s battle with cancer, a daughter’s relationship breakdown, and those other things that happen to us every day to make them memorable.  I was struck too by the small creatures that inhabit many of these poems, sometimes as metaphors, sometimes as themselves – bright with imagination and whimsy.     Helen Ivory


Lynn’s poems have an appealing surreal edge – vultures, a visiting badger, and a talking lizard for instance, exemplify their vitality. I particularly admire her grounded natural voice in the spare distilled poems which risk heroic final images.                    Michael Laskey

Norfolk coastal scenery, seabirds and a qualifying host of inland countryside minutiae provide a composite, yet decidedly essential backcloth to the introspective verse settings of much of the creative output contained in Lynn Woollacott’s appealing second collection. A well-crafted, interrelated gathering of poems, often subtly edged with suggestive elements of the surreal, within a fascinating balance of detailed, selective perception and underlying reiterative family concerns. Lynn’s frequent poetry submissions to poetry magazines, will, of course, accord this ubiquitous writer with no further need for introduction to our various readers, but perhaps it is also sufficient for me to mention that I personally have great respect for her penmanship as a fellow review contributor.    B.M Jackson
(Extract from Reach Poetry Magazine)

We know that the collection will be full of diverse poetry – poetry that will be sure to engage the reader and take them, via paths they may not always wish to tread, to pastures both new and old where, whatever the subject matter of their verses, there will be words which will do what all goes poetry should do – that is, move the reader in heart and mind. Poetry too, that will have that same reader thinking that most universal thought – ‘I wish I’d written that!’   Alan Carter 
(Extract from  Quantum Leap Poetry Magazine)


The Miracle of Everything  by Patrick Lodge (Envoi issue170 June 201)

The title of Lynn Woollacott's Notes From The Balcony hints at a squint view, someone slightly removed from the main action. As such it is an appropriate title for Woollacott, who often takes the position of a watcher of events that she is part of but cannot directly influence. Many of the poems - and the best in terms of emotional intensity, poetic craft and impact on the reader - concern the death of her sister in 2011, to whom the book is dedicated.

The title poem is an encounter with a lizard whose world is turned into shadow temporarily but for whom light returns. For Woollacott the shadow of her sister's final illness will not so easily replaced by light, though for now,


She smiles on the sun bed, scratches patchy,
auburn hair, and makes an exaggerated
reptile pose for my camera.

The squint view appears to become a coping mechanism, a means of distancing. Poems record being in one place but thinking about another where the important things are happening. Night Lights starts with a fine description of an observed place that is sharply brought into emotional focus - 'I'm imagining what it's like to be alone' - before drifting off to the real locus of the poem in mind,

It reminds me of the patterns of weave
in somebody's cane furniture
a thousand miles away.

If these poems are cathartic it is not in the sense of a full on Greek tragedy. They are often gentle and understated with Woollacott's sister and her plight appearing almost tangentially but no less powerfully,

Outside on the balcony my sister is wrestling
with serviettes taken by a gust
I see the alien stent in her chest nod. (Glass Mice)

As a participant, Woollacott can do little but observe and record. She does this with much grace and lack of sentimentality. The two stanza poem Helplessness says it all in expressing what she would wish to do, almost an angel, 'so I could make you well again', but it is impossible and the angel's wings end the poem in a chilling image of helplessness,

like straw herring bones
on an abandoned albatross chick
alone on a precipice
in Arctic Winter.

Here, the balcony has become a precipice with its danger for the poet of falling, but, in her determination to leave a worthy testament to her sister, she doesn't.. The sad and gentle By the major Oak hints at resignation to the death with a series of stanzas beginning with 'perhaps' and detailing places her spirit may be but the loss remains:

Perhaps you linger beside the moon -
crinkling stars to throw to your loved ones
the nights they need them most.

The core of the collection is these intense poems relating to her sister. Apart from those dealing equally well with the break-up of her daughter's relationship, other poems - though demonstrating acute observational skill and a delight in the natural world - seem somewhat bland in comparison, like exercises in creative writing.

Nevertheless this is a powerful collection made more so by the closing three poems that hint at Woollacott's coming to terms with the past and looking forward to the future. They are like a final breathing out after a sustained holding of breath and the collection ends with the new life represented by a christening poem Poem for Daniel where Woollacott advises her grandson, in what might be a distillation of her skills as a poet, to 'Take lessons in listening/to the smallest bee to the cry of the humpback.' and to recognise, as  Woollacott has in writing this collection, 'the miracle of everything.'


ANIMAL MAGIC: REVIEW BY DAVID TROMAN (Orbis 171 Spring 2015)

A second collection, where Woollacott's connections with UEA, Michael Laskey in particular, are evident in subject matter and language. Both are grounded in the everyday, even if occasionally becoming surreal.
    The opening poems, 'Jenny's Rock' and 'Notes From The Balcony' provide the overall flavour; meter, rhyme, humour, empathy and strength of expression all in evidence. Here's  an example: 'On hot days we dozed back in time / waiting for a twitch from the giant rock's toes'. The rock acquires shape and personality, with the mind becoming a time machine to imbue life into dreams. And here's a description evoking sight, sound, smell, taste and action, in five words: '...pigs that snuffle for truffles'.
    The title poem is captured in the delightful cover image, contrasting vibrant living colours with a safely grey background: a lizard mounts the stage, speaks his lines and departs, leaving the poet's convalescent sister to echo his vitality, expressed in a series of active, sibilant verbs: quivers/dares/slither/stretches/lazing/eclipsed/slips. Then:

The essence of him leaves a needy presence
quite unlike the scars that that struck

The change to the starker sounds of 'scars' and 'struck' seem to evoke a harsher reality, yet even they

...shimmer
across my sister's back and chest.


The sister remains soft and sibilant, smiling for the camera; her harmony is not disrupted but seemingly offering the strength of hope that will overcome her
illness.
    Woollacott delivers assured free verse throughout but while comfortable with this form, also forays into sonnets, with varied success, and her sestina, though good, could perhaps be stronger.
    The final piece, 'Poem for Daniel', written for her grandson's christening encapsulates the attitude demonstrated across the volume:

The stars held the wishes of our ancestors
...
Under the rising sun the spring glitters
...
Don't be alarmed by shadows and let tears pass
...
...we hope you see the reflections;
the miracle of everything.

And many hours of pleasure are contained in this slim volume.

*

Purple Elephant

Sewing sequins on a purple elephant
lying upside down under her rounded contours
I made a silver star for her story:
where she’d come from out of the cupboard
when a badger ran in from the wintry field.
I opened my arms to welcome him,
and tended his feet
which had pounded the frozen clumps;
musky scent and greasy hair against my face
I stroked his whiskers,
gathering the dew to shake
into diamond sequins
to thread a seat for my purple elephant, weaving
chains to wrap around her and guide
her to the last minute’s horizon.
The badger didn’t stay. His mission
was to continue across the pink fizz of a ploughed field
become ghost to the seven sequins in the sky.


Lately

I’ve missed choosing a postcard, thinking over words
to write to bring a smile to her face (receiving them,
more so). I’ve missed saving a good English book
to post, to be discussed at leisure over the phone.
I’ve missed finding a comedy or romantic film
and the bubble wrap bag to send them via airmail
(coincidentally queuing behind the girl who does
eBay parcels). I’ve missed the long drives to the airport
to collect her and people-watching the arrivals.
I’ve missed her non-stop talking on the long quiet
walks we took beside the sea. I miss the greeting
kisses, planted firmly on each cheek. I miss
the way she said, Go quick, I hate good-byes.



**


Something and Nothing - Lynn Woollacott
78pp; £6.50p ISBN 978-1-907401-42-8
Indigo Dreams Publishing from www.indigodreamsbookshop.com
or Central Books, London. Tel: 0845 458 9910

          It's not enough, father, spillling our future
          on the perimeter path.
          in dreams we step inside pockets of clouds
          with doors to wilderness and plains,
          an unplanned day, a long distance sky,
          a kiss-less unmarked postcard.
          NUTS AND BOLTS

Bitter-sweet memories of early childhood, in a mining village in the Sixties, are brought sharply into focus in prize-winning poet, Lynn Woollacott's appealing collection
'SOMETHING AND NOTHING', and though the exacting, hard-working conditions of the actual miners in that community are barely touched upon, an immediate awareness is nevertheless effectively conveyed through substantial, supporting imagery, and vibrant instances emergent from the poignant settings of her verse. It is, perhaps, pertinent to realise, here, that Lynn's childhood world, and indeed those later formative teenage years were summarily to face a sudden wind of change, for after leaving school at 15, she was married at 16, has her first child at 17 and moved to Norfolk only a year later. Subsequent resourcefulness and constant study have brought the reward of three Diplomas and a
Post-Graduate qualification, though characteristically her former childhood memories must ever remain a vital part of her meaningful sense of existence:

          Here she is, cross-legged on cold lino,
          holding her breath, with a mint of mixed shells,
          reading a found pearl like a crystal ball,
          light illuminates words on a white page
          over a gold star pressed on black lines.
         
SHELLS

Many of these poems effectively highlight the rough and tumble of those boisterous childhood days:

          You can eat worms if you're hungry, my brother said,
          teaching me how to suck their bodies,
          stretch them out,
          then roll their dirt with saliva, and spit.
          They taste like blackberries, he added;
          Another long story.
         
SPIT

The same young gentleman also figures in her poem, 'ON THE PLUS SIDE', in which she marvels at the amount of bread and jam her young brother was able to consume. As do most youngsters, Lynn enjoyed covert eavesdropping on the grown-ups' conversations, when she should have been tucked up in bed:

          Clusters of iconic relations interfused
          overlapping crosstalk over cups of tea.
          LISTENING ON THE STAIRS

There are vivid narrative accounts in well-measured free verse settings, too. In her poem, 'RED', Lynn relates how, as a little girl, wearing a beautiful gold, satin bridesmaid's dress for her sister's forthcoming wedding, she came upon the sickening sight of a bird being savaged by a large black cat. In an adjoining poems, 'KNOTS', there's a visit by a aunt from distant Gravesend who brings her a pot doll attired in a gold knitted cardigan. Money being tight, at the time, this doll is later sold to the rag-and -bone man. And her poem 'BUS FARE', Lynn 'gave her mum half her paper-round money / to put towards the Electric, which in the big scheme / of things, was two weeks bus fare money.'

A whole kaleidoscope of seaside images is conjured up in her poem, 'ANNUAL PIT OUTING', a poem that joyously recalls the communal fun and carefree atmosphere on such a memorable day's excursion - And with a ten bob note to spend, too! Small incidentals take on new and greater importance in poems describing the baking of a conker, the knitting of woolen mittens, and that much treasured collection of sea shells that Lynn so fondly remembers. The only poem dealing with a miner's working conditions, so far beneath the earth surface, is pinpointed quite graphically in her poem, 'NIGHT SHIFT':

          while slivers of silt
          embed his knees
          and a shadow of sludge
          covers his face.
         
NIGHT SHIFT

The whole of this collection is a charming study of a not-quite-innocent childhood, affectionately drawn upon and substantially revealed with characteristic warmth and a fine degree of sharpened introspection. Not only is this poetry of a high order, but this writer appropriately speaks of a working-class way of life all too soon to be sadly consigned to history.

Bernard M. Jackson

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Something and Nothing - Lynn Woollacott

"There is a skein of mysticism running throughout. Poetry of imagery for sure, with a touch of wistfulness. Some gorgeous phrases and lines." - Wish I'd written that' I thought, reading one of the 'blurbs' on Lynn's collection - then remembered that I had! The name of Lynn Woollacott will certainly be familiar to Quantum Leap readers, as she's been a regular contributor - and prize winner, for a number of years. I had the pleasure of meeting Lynn when she came to one of our Poetry Workshop Weeks and it's another pleasure now to review this, her first full-length poetry collection. When I add that Anna Reckin says - '. . . has a Fairy-tail realism, harsh and bitter-sweet . . . poems gleam and glitter with the magic counter-language of childhood: rats, mice, gold stars, soot, dolls, birds, packets of tea, the works outing, the cabbage patch, the cry of the rag-and-bone man, the sea.' - and Helen Ivory says - '. . . difficult . . . to write about poverty in a mining village in the sixties without conjuring up images of all the other texts with the same signifiers. What Woollacott does is inject a familiar theme with fresh language and fresh imagery, creating as ash-filled place, peppered with magical-realism, animals and kindred birds.' - you know that you are definitely in for some special with SOMETHING AND NOTHING.

Can I precis all this for you? Well yes - Lynn writes with a poet's eye - mixed metaphor, but that's what she does - which captures past lives and memories, wraps them in clothes of ordinariness and extra ordinariness, yet with a tingly tang of fantasy and illusion, and then presents them for you to read and enjoy. In this collection you will find schooldays, childhood and family memories and reminiscences, together with acute observation on such diverse things as hares, sticklebacks, knots, tins, shells, lightning, conkers, clouds and mussels! And all for the price of a couple of pints! What about these for starters

          She collected pearls
          but not the blue ones her mam spat out
          when she flicked through the pages
          WORDS

          Sister said,
          lie down in white
          and contact silence

          lift your wings
          and beat them to the stars.
          NIGHT SNOW ANGELS

          She undid the Golden Fleece,
          wound a ball of wool,
          hiding the knots inside.
          UNDOING

          Snap, goes
          the silver metal lid
          stained with black

          Snap, goes the thin lever.
          Snapped, tight shut
          like her mouth.
          SNAP

That poet's eye surfaces in many of Lynn's poems, revealing a fine eye for detail and an ability to paint her picture with practised ease, as with these two extracts:

          In the park,  she drops off sons and daughters
          to fend for themselves like abandoned kittens,

          and they swoop with diversions and strategies
          to plunder the pitch night sky

          until they drift off one by one, and leave
          the little girl on the creaking swing

          to practise invisibility under folds of smoke
          stolen from her brother's pocket.
          WANDERING MOTHER IN CHOCOLATE WRAP

          He says nothing all day
          and the night grows cold
          as she drips her words
          like a tap that's turned
          a patch of white sink green.

          When she throws the plate
          and the knife sticks in the wall
          and shivers by its steel blade,
          he picks up a pencil
          and starts the daily's puzzle.
          NUMBER NINE

The poet's descriptive powers and imagination are to the fore in her poem, 'THE ASHMAN', where she tells about the legendary figure who haunts the slag heaps planting trees to beautify them and in 'THE RAVEN', detailing a first day at school:

          The Ashman's clothes flapped in the scorching sun,
          and when snowflakes stormed but never settled
          on his crusted hands or his grey flowing hair.
          They say he walked where a child could slip
          into a pocket and disappear
          to a core of molten ash and burn in hell,
          but there was no child's name to speak of.
          THE ASHMAN

          Hraefin and gold lion, side by side
          blazoned on banner
          hanging over lines of children
          assembled like corvids,
          hunched shoulders, folded wings,
          the new intakes smell of damp wool
          with secret pockets for lost souls,
          THE RAVEN

SOMETHING AND NOTHING is a delight: those of you who know Lynn's work will know just what is in store and for those of you who don't, you have treats galore to come if you buy this fine collection.

Alan J. Carter