Elizabeth Barrett’s A Dart of Green and Blue

Born in Sheffield in 1961, Elizabeth Barrett has a first degree and PhD in History and Politics from the University of London and was a scholarship student at the University of Massachusetts in the 1980s. She later trained as an English teacher, subsequently working in education research and as a university lecturer.
Elizabeth has received several awards for her poetry including an Arts Council of England Writer’s Award in 2000. She has worked as a writer-in-residence in schools, a prison and radio, and as a creative writing tutor and poetry editor. A Dart of Green and Blue (Arc Publications, 2010) is her fourth book.
She has two children and lives in Sheffield where she is Principal Lecturer in Education at Hallam University.

A Dart of Green and Blue explores the impact of loss on the human spirit; we witness the death of a mother and of a child, the loss of a lover and the erosion of self. A variety of birds inhabit the poems, carrying moments of joy and healing as well as grief. In one sequence, a girl is eclipsed by the shadow of a gull’s wing; in another she turns pelican, bleeding from self-inflicted wounds. But there are visionary moments and transformations too. In one sequence, Barrett imagines her dying mother transformed into a kingfisher:
     … I waited. Watched. It only took one
     hour before a dart of brilliant green and blue
     flashed past me (heading somewhere) and was gone.
There is resilience and some redemption in this collection. At the end of a sequence of poems charting the loss of a lover, a blackbird is still singing softly. And, in the collection’s closing poem, a finch flies into the human ‘labyrinth of tissue and bone’ where it sings of a ‘horizon sparkling with phosphorescence’.”
“Once you have started reading Elizabeth Barrett’s A Dart of Green and Blue, it is almost impossible to put down until you have weighed every word, savoured every piece of imagery and reflected on every emotional twist.
This is highly-charged poetry – intelligent, honest, unsentimental, exciting – full of surprises and with an unflagging pace and energy from the very beginning. The book falls into four sections: ‘Kingfisher’, a prize-winning sequence of poems about the death of the poet’s mother, to whose memory the book is dedicated; ‘Gull View North’, a long view (gull’s view) of the quarrying of Portland stone; ‘Penelope’s Magpie’; and finallly, ‘The Urge to Look Up’, both of which explore old and new relationships, dying and developing love.”
“This kind of poetry demands nothing other than that we observe our world more closely, think on it, feel something for it. It celebrates the lives and loved ones of the real people critics call ‘readers’.”

– Mark Burnhope, Stride Magazine
This Spring I’ll tip the scales to day
tilt them with weighted hours, then fold
time here at the edge of light. I will stay
with her at the high window, gold
flaring long as a solstice sun. We’ll play
at naming streets and she’ll admire the bold
yellow flower on the Arts Tower. From her bay
window on Ward Q3 (Acute) I’ll hold
back the night, so she’ll never look the way
she did next day when she’d been told.
There will be no fall through shortened days,
no sudden winding down of years, no scald
of tears nor darkness. Blessed in gold,
the day unbalancing forever, she’ll grow old.
In those last days she objected (gently)
to the trays of drugs the nurses brought:
I’m not a kingfisher she told me.
Swallowing was hard. She hadn’t caught
those pills in river light – didn’t have the king
bird’s knack of flicking them in the air
until they perfect-angled down the o-ring
of her open throat. Her daily catch was square-
or zeppelin-shaped. She had to get
the pitch just right so they would slip
like silver fish into her failing gullet –
otherwise she’d gag on them, be sick.
On her last day they pumped morphine through
her veins. I waited. Watched. It only took one
hour before a dart of brilliant green and blue
flashed past me (heading somewhere) and was gone.
Lights, Bangs, Flashes
All the next week, bangs and flashes of light bulbs
extinguishing themselves. There was no pining,
no high-pitched whine to warn me they were near the end;
just a series of sudden deaths. One morning, the force
of four at once threw the screen in the cooker hood
from its seating. Everything kept fusing in my newly-
wired house. How many trips did I make to the cellar,
fumbling through the floor hatch in torchlight to trip
the circuits back? One night, bulbs jumped clean from
their bayonets, flung out of their screwed-down lives.
Was this her doing; a code for me to crack?
What was she trying to signal through this black-out
and flash? I wasn’t sure until the day, stopped at lights,
a car slammed me from behind. The impact threw
me from my seat, knocked both his headlamps out.
I hugged him, kissed his cheek. I’m so sorry, I said.
Losing Things
Midsummer. The longest day draws out the crowds –
families, couples, girls downtown. I watch their eyes
for tell-tale signs but pick up only smiles; it will last
forever they think. Don’t they know how fragile
this is? And once you’ve lost the toughest things –
daughter, mother – why bother holding on to others?
So I quit the job I’d just got; didn’t care for the boss.
Told a woman I’d never trusted where to get off.
My mum had her number. She was smart enough
not to judge my lover. Still, I chucked him too.
The house went on the market next. One week I peeled off
three people (cross me you’re dead). Others I quietly dropped.
Soon there was nothing else to lose. I was travelling light
through voodoo June turning day to night, sun to moon.
I want to lose my balance; go somewhere uncertain,
beyond reason. The clairvoyant names the date and hour
of death. Do you know she loves lilies? Always think of her
with flowers. She tells me you were never good at picking
men. She let you make your mistakes. For some reason
she puts fish around you. Please remember I told you.
She pins a brooch on you, shows me one white rose.
Your mum loves Christmas. She was a good cook.
She doesn’t want you to be sad this year, my love.
But she would like you to be more consistent.
She makes me aware of letters being burned.
She’s not happy about it. No, she’s not happy at all.
Do you understand? The spirit world has many ways
of making things happen. She wants you to leave it alone.
And you’ll be connected to an Irish man, I’ll say that.
I buy lilies – book a week in County Kerry for luck.
Say then
Say that the colour of your shirt
reflected the lake in your eyes,
that the pitch of your alto voice
made me tremble inside.
Say that you noticed the watery beads
of glass around my neck, gestured
to a seat as if you had expected this –
offered paper, steaming tea, a pen.
Say that at the sound of your name
I unwound, as if I’d known always
that in a carriage of strangers I would
reach to brush dust from your cheek.
Say that it was fear of this
made me long for the train to slide
from the tracks of that wooden bridge –
to hang suspended over the glittering lake.
Say then that I would fly
like a trapeze girl letting go of the rope,
feel water the colour of your eyes
going over me, filling my throat.
from A Dart of Green and Blue (Arc Publications, 2010).
Order A Dart of Green and Blue.
Sarah Hymas reviews A Dart of Green and Blue.
William Oxley reviews A Dart of Green and Blue.
Mark Burnhope reviews A Dart of Green and Blue.

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