Philip Ruthen on
Sally Richards' collection Emperor Dragonfly, issued in e-book format by The Recusant's Caparison imprint (2011), is a fusion of definition and sensibility, a solidity lodging the ephemeral, as inferred in the collection’s title, leading through the opening scene-setting poem ‘Tree Speak’: the sometimes gentle, musical, at times stormy, forceful/’… ‘they have finally met/and now negotiate/their new found connection//’ – yes, communication is intimate, but battling openly.
Fragile spring growth contests with the ‘pirates’ of near-human form, the inferences of battling, an unnatural settlement of earth in how human pleasure overtakes necessity and rhythm –‘blue-sky-days pass/all too soon//’ and the remembrance, homage even of something we have and forget, almost, is where Richards brings us alive again – she has not forgotten on our behalf.
‘Four Journeying – Past Caradoc to Llanrindod: The Heart-of-Wales Line’ p12-13 captures the journeyman relationships, dips down to lift up, whether it be ‘eight months of their growing/missed…’ for the lone grandmother, who ‘closes her violet blues’, or, the young freed, there’s generosity in fear through Richards’ recognisable, jolting story. Though the shock as the reader is made aware they have similar background is not a cruel dig, but an affirmation that it will be and is alright to let go into a ‘warming future story’ in the poem of ‘A view to the future’ p14.
The fixing of time is recognised as a task not meant even for the poet, although Richards does this better than most philosopher-poets through the ages, giving a glimpse in ‘Stationary’ p22, catching the impossibility of scent and thought, her ‘grain of sand’ doesn’t slip, it’s recorded to again prompt the past, present, future to be considered in a current universe before the choice – destruction or a certain harmony, that may be ‘tea-stained, crumpled’, but that would be in a ‘then’, not now. The poems bleaken at this point, sensory rooms are never used, gardens untended, occasional nature is ‘indescribable stodge’, the nourishment plays against the nourishment in the earlier poems. In ‘Abandoned: Mogolinio Children’s Institute, Bulgaria’ p25-28 Richards sets the other side of utopia with that of true remembrance; as also in the present, in our own places, ‘How Can You’ p30 - ‘these streets, these streets’ are not elsewhere, they are here, ‘The Bigger Issue’ p31-32
Richards brings us back – in the poem ‘There is light…where is the tunnel?’ ‘life can only travel forwards/so that must be the way//’ p43-44, and does so with poetic vision: ‘doing time/writing rhyme’ - and the conclusion: ‘…till/pumped-up/you emerge/magnificent/’, p3, Emperor Dragonfly.
An abundant and assertive collection, a print run would be desirable also, I think, for Richards to reach the untold memories waiting to find peace in a growing and avidly appreciative readership. Emperor Dragonfly is a collection that affirms the poet’s place in the world and equally affirms poetry’s place in the world as we know it, and could know it.
Philip Ruthen © 2012