Thomas Tyrrell reviews Windfalls, the new two-part poetry collection from Susie Wild.
Susie Wild’s new poetry collection, Windfalls, is a book of two complete, roughly equal sections. One is about exes, and the other is about 2020. First up, ‘The Carnivore Boyfriends’.
Dating unsuitable people is a risky but rewarding strategy for a writer in search of material. There’s a plethora of blokes here, some neatly skewered by the writer’s pen, some sympathetic, others threatening. The tone can turn from comedic to deeply unsettling in a page, showing the variety of styles and techniques with which Wild approaches her material. They’re confident, colloquial pieces, confiding to the point that some of the second person poems which address the boyfriends directly can be a bit immersion breaking, because the reader’s general position throughout is that of the friend in the café going, ‘I’m not sure about this one, Susie, really I’m not, what on earth did you see in him to begin with? Whatever happened to that bloke who brought you the tofu in bed? I liked him’. Best of the bunch is ‘The Knotweed Remover’, where the language of human and vegetable bondage combines to witty and sinister effect.
I can sort out your problem for you,
this stranger in a bar hands me a business card, winks.
I wonder how he knows: though I’ve not seen
the knotweed return, I hear it creak in the night. How can I
unroot it? Soon I learn his unknotting by day is replaced
with ropes after dark. Sometimes you have to tighten first
to loosen up.
‘Windfalls’, the titular second section, finds the poet in a far better position to weather the challenges of a steadily approaching pandemic, shacked up with a new husband, a house in Cardiff, and a garden to spend the hours in. Poets are accustomed to compressing meanings and images into the bounds of compact and tortuous poetic forms, and in a similar way these poems react with inventiveness and vigour to the constraints of life in a pandemic. In ‘I am cutting the lawn with secateurs’, the rigidity of the couplets skilfully mimics the rigidity of life under lockdown.
I have a bin-bag full of clothes etc.
ready for when charity starts up again.
I have a pile of ironing I am still ignoring.
I have no need for straight lines.
I have tidied my underwear drawer.
I am judging the rest of you now.
I am cutting the lawn with secateurs
just to make the joy of the task last longer.
The ordering might have benefited from being a bit more chronologically-minded; with almost every poem belonging to a clear historical moment, it becomes distracting to turn from a poem where people are walking ‘gloved-hand in gloved-hand / on government sanctioned daily outings’, to a poem about the Bute Park flood of February 2020 and then, a few pages on, the Australian bushfires of January.
The two sections of this book could easily have been published as separate pamphlets. In reading both, we get a movement from the raw confessional material of the boyfriends to the rooted, sustaining passion of the windfalls, from a succession of brief encounters to a relationship stable enough to weather the challenges of lockdown. It’s the arc of a romance without the schmaltz of it, and aren’t we all suckers for a happy ending?
Windfalls by Susie Wild is available now from Parthian.
Thomas Tyrrell has a PhD in English Literature from Cardiff University and has twice won the Terry Hetherington poetry award.