The Seed-box Lantern: New & Selected Poems (Mariscat Press)
Through the generosity of Mariscat Press, the eminent poetry publisher, a small stack of books recently came home with me from a visit to Scotland. I can claim a moment’s distinction in that a pamphlet of mine, XII from Catullus, was the imprint’s first publication: a roughish affair, whether we’re talking about the production values or the poems themselves. But since that milestone in 1982, poet and publisher Hamish Whyte has turned out volume after distinguished volume, encompassing such poets as Edwin Morgan (for whose Mariscat appearances I ran up two or three covers), Gael Turnbull, Valerie Thornton and Stewart Conn, to name a few in this who’s who of Scottish poetry.
Mariscat productions are celebrated as much for their design and print as their select choice of contributing poets, and Diana Hendry’s latest appearance, The Seed-box Lantern: New & Selected Poems, fits that bill comfortably. Poet, short story writer and (among her other accomplishments) children’s author Diana Hendry has woven a beguiling variety of themes into this collection - a delight to pick up and browse as well as to read.
Here gape, among uneasy reflections on female relatives and quick flirts with philosophical despair, Andean gorges and Greek skies. Home base is, appropriately, the everyday, and an everyday seen with a refreshing eye (‘cellophane sticky as semen’ is but one of the unexpected apercus in these pages) yet we never take the unserious risk of growing stale there, and are soon off in search of wider horizons:
The sea’s trying
to find the far edge of sky
In vistas like these, Diana Hendry’s affinity with other modes of being becomes very palpable, as in her sympathy with seals:
Someone has stitched them up
iin sleeping bags of stained grey satin
Or at her apple tree, which ‘stands/on one leg’ (Apple Sense). Especially subtle are the gradations in Hendry’s empathy, where the creatures or objects she contemplates are not patronised into ‘ others' with whom we can, given a flash of imagination, commune, but greeted as fellow travellers, beings themselves in the process of change.
As indeed are her closer connections, populating much of the book, and no less themselves for Hendry's close scrutiny and edgy faiblesses. Of an infant daughter we’re told ‘We quarrel while you’re in the bath’, and it’s soon clear the verb is less a piquant whimsy, more an all-but-welcome report of respective status. The poem itself, The Stranger, moves from a quiet start to a heartbreak of remnant having, rather than outright loss:
Queer, but I’m glad of ghosts and fear
That if they leave, I’ll lose your shade to pin
Love to. Then love, that hall-light left all night
For you, might break its filament, or fuse.
The Stranger is token of Diana Hendry’s mastery of time: she flicks into a past as easily as one thumbs the pages of a photograph album, only thereafter sensing the weight of the leaves. A father’s reticent knocking on a daughter’s door is a constant reminder of him, like a leitmotif (Father’s Doors); a mother’s incapacity in age, in one breath her child’s inability to catch up with her (Waiting). Beneath the regret beats a vein of faith that the journey is to some end, sometimes swelling to unabashed hymn, almost browbeating us into singing along. There are many chords on Hendry's score, though it's ultimately for one engaging voice.
I’ve no more relish nowadays for a tussle with a poet than has the bleary sheriff with the unwary gunslinger who hasn’t sized him up properly. If I want puzzles, there's the Turkish homework I haven’t done. But Diana Hendry’s conundrums are those of existence itself, dilemmas she reminds us that we share. Her companionable voice, in its many tones, invites us to explore them further, and to enjoy its ring on the way.
Diana Hendry’s home page
Diana Hendry’s Amazon author page