Poetry Anthology by Mandy Coe
Published by Shoestring Press 2016
With the Eyes of Cherries:
A review by Minnie Stacey
This collection of poems is shot through with the shine of cherries – reflecting ice, fire, mud and earth. Amid the imagery rounded by the book’s title, birds abound and shiny spheres trace the fruits all through the pages. We get the astonishing gleam of a cherry-picked red onion, cheeks that blush and blaze, gums which bud with cherry bites, the atoms of lips and nipples, the halos of lamps, raindrop orbs, the shapes of sounds. The last poem brings us back to bud in the earth where blind worms listen for the future.
Like the river’s silver wake in Pure, some poems bear a darkness. Many flash with colour and are lit with the light and care of a smile across absurdity. Mandy Coe’s a poet who’s water-fall rich and sap-full with seeing. She’s a poet chewing on the cud of cherries, eschewing the metrics of poesy but speaking of particles and gazing at the sight of many suns. Her closed and opened lids are iambic in themselves.
Coe’s descriptive free-verse style opens up the pages and loosens logic. Its rhythm is a scanned environment bringing us tales from the street and reaching from mackerel silver, up through the milk-edge of galaxies into a deep roar of inner space. Like the cycle of the tree, a watchful yet wild stance takes us through the temperatures and seasons of nature and human nature – putting out roots, living, leaving, evolving, revolving and regenerating. A leitmotif of teeth rings this verse with bite.
We begin with Planting the Cherry Tree, where creativity bends away from the young tree’s birth-bracelet in the form of a plastic label, and in an instant dazzles us with its crop of white-laced sunshine and mouth-ready cherries, before a sighing spout of icy water rushes into the leaf of this page’s awakening.
It’s all connected. The Ski-Jumper’s Holiday asks us: ‘Who knows what makes coconuts decide to drop?’ There’s sweet and funny fayre here – love and holding-on in an automated world of algorithms in Hold On, a Love Song to a Ping Pong Ball, an Imagined Sea in a South-Liverpool Tesco. There’s giggling about turning each other into rocket ships at team building, a tree which walks, even a bus with red eyes and black lashes. Echoing the pole on the bus we all pass by and swing on, a seabird atop the pinewood rings of a telegraph pole conducts maypole conversations through pink legs and red-ringed eyes: ‘down every feather’s quill and feather-edge’.
Mandy’s words feature skin and it’s lit, slackened, let go of, tired, held, mapped by ropes of veins, swimming, bathing, flinching, floating, forested, undressed, marked, spoken to with fingers and truly naked. Silver is everywhere. Melted chips of ice tend the cracked lips of someone’s final curtain in Ten Years to Remember It and Five Years to Write It, as the shroud of a human meadow becomes the memory of a flower-bright apron. The Ski-Jumper’s Holiday has the skin-chill of a minibar but is bright with stars. ‘What is it/in sandstone walls that sparkles?’ is what Gratitude Diary wonders. Bright whisper illuminates the bark of trees, a diamond ring is plucked from the bottom of a pool.
The prose poem He Lived in a Place circles sex with the thrill of fruit: ‘…it’s like polishing and being polished – you get shine, but you get sounds as well.’ ‘Have you ever eaten something so good it made you close your eyes and moan?’ Skinbound slips with libido – it opens and falls like blossom: ‘and the colours spread and the gap between/you and everything else opens and closes like gills’. Coltrane is a sweet-and-sour riff from life’s sexual burner: ‘The sun is arrested/wrestled to the pavement/beneath a heap/of grunting police.’ The Tempo of Thought is sensual with the sudden scent of crushed ditch mint: ‘as the cart jolts over a rock half buried in mud.’
Darker poems glow with death and glint with the moon. There’s luminous tape and blue light-strobed faces in Incident, where heaps of dying flowers come to pass. A window blind severs a cosmic show in Seeing a Full Moon: ‘In the circle/between finger and thumb/you enclose the shine.’ In Final Entrance, a gentle poem about the inevitable loss of human relationships we all face, warm orange air is pungent with geraniums. In Coal Granddad’s skin is tattooed blue with its dust as dark ropes of veins trace seaweed fronds in black seams. The effects of this coal-town on people’s lungs is graphic: ‘Granddad’s cough was the smallest/- a sharp breath caught in a fist’.
Indeed, the collection doesn’t exclude deadly political arenas. In Hang on a Minute, Lads. I’ve Got a Great Idea, farcical and tragic economics see-saw on Coe’s acerbic and mocking, cockney edge with a simple allusion: ‘You’re only supposed to blow the bloody doors off.’ Trip Advisor, Reviews of Syntagma Square is a Greek Tragedy of almost abject objectivity – beginning with clunky, alliterative hard K-consonants, the poem is an obdurate, cleverly-remote device exposed as an angry adjective by a killer last verse about economic suicide. Quirk-some burning of politicians in Waxworks make birthday candles for us all. Practising Emptiness at Calais sees people in flat-packed emptiness. A beseeching last line: ‘Let nothing happen’ in For Poetry Makes Nothing Happen, is haunting; a village threatened by black smoke sees oiled bullets in boxed rows ready for the want of sunlight playing its tricks between leaves, as a stone approaches a dangerously-gendered girl. Like Carol Ann Duffy’s poem Last Post, Undoing quickly and directly shows war up for the waste it is – a backwards trend, as women choke on their reversed screams.
Sky Forgive Us is a secular prayer rooted in our world, intoning and rubbing out the biblical Lord’s one. It has the power to frighten us, as it turns on desks and clocks: ‘Understand the hand/that shields when we face you./Forgive us our rooftops’.
Imagination is the soil of this poetry allotment. Un-encompassed by acts of enclosure, the verses breathe with energy. The shimmer and verve of water, photons and scent divines a smooth and gritty text.
The finesse of this poet’s fuck-it and go-for-it mix is a mind seeing everything all-at-once, creating a collage with the squeaky fabric of petals. Mandy Coe plants, turns over and picks moments to ferment sense. The poems are intimate, universally juicy, wry observations with branches sketching syllable-cymbal splashes in a cherry-rich sky. And Liverpool’s here… the 82 bus, Penny Lane, the local Tesco…
This is the work of a poet who’s found her voice. The book has to be a prize-winner.