Beverley Bie Brahic, White Sheets, 76 pp, £7.99, CB Editions

The supple, intelligent, sophisticated but grounded poems of White Sheets also gave me a good deal of pleasure to read. They cover wide areas of space and time (Brahic grew up in Canada and lives in Paris and California; she weaves webs of cross-connection between such things as her father’s experiences in the Second World War, contemporary fighting in Afghanistan or Iraq and the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta). They sensitively explore the difficulties of physical and emotional distance from parents and the sadness of parents’ decline. Moving easily between personal experience and the imagined experience of others, they meditate on paintings and books (several poems are translated / adapted from Ponge), on the natural world, and on the beauty, fragility and insecurity of life. I enjoyed the author’s individual sensibility and view of the world, her gifts for sharp observation, whether of people or things, for clear description, for the delicate shaping and pacing of lines, and for ruefully self-deprecating humour, tartness and bawdy zest. These qualities can easily be illustrated by quotation: “The heron flaps off – / dad, I think, / revisiting his tide pools”; “It’s on waking sex is best”; “They bob / in flames, like boat people” (describing the damned in medieval scenes of the Last Judgement). However, I can’t concisely illustrate Brahic’s most important strength. She may not be as powerful a talent as Elizabeth Bishop, but in her quieter way she shares Bishop’s flair for presenting the mind in the act of thinking by verbalising the subtle evolutions of thought, the false trails and associative leaps through which it reacts to the world.

Thanks to Peter and Ann Sansom for permission to repost this after its publication in The North 50.



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