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Clare Best reviews Abegail Morley’s Snow Child

Child by Abegail Morley
Pindrop Press 2011
ISBN 9780956782243
Abegail Morley’s first collection How to Pour Madness into a Teacup, a winner of the Cinnamon Press Poetry Collection Competition and shortlisted for the Forward Best First Collection prize, was always going to be a hard act to follow.

With the very smart Pindrop Press edition of Snow Child, Morley has gone for a swift second collection (published just two years after How to Pour Madness into a Teacup) which bears the same hallmark of emotional power. Snow Child again demonstrates that this poet is a force to be reckoned with.

Running to sixty-three pages of poems, the collection could seem in need of some pruning, but part of the message of Morley’s work appears to me to be its protracted nature. She has a way of approaching her subjects from several different angles, and the resulting layers of emotion, the build-up of impressions, the accretions of weight, are central to the effect of the collection as a whole.
The poems describe and inhabit a state of super-sensitivity (this term is more aware of a need for covering than the word ‘rawness’, though that word is tempting). It is manifested in ‘Angler’ as the skinned fish with eyes that “solidify and chink on the plate”. It appears in ‘Family Album’ as a yearning: “At the end of the darkness is the thread of my child./ I carry the weight of the dead”. It re-emerges in ‘Northern Line’ as “a disembodiment,/ a straining to replace nothing with something”. This super-sensitivity, questing comfort and seldom finding it, gives the poems their urgency and provides their uniformity of tone and drive.
Many of the poems focus on loss of one kind and another. Often the loss seems predatory, ineluctable, as in ‘Wasps’:
          By now you’re 50 miles away at the Dartford Tunnel,
          thrumming your way through. Here my skull’s stuffed
          with wasps bashing their wings, wedged between
          bone and skin. Soon their humming stops.
The loss is generally associated with menace, violence, the potential for more loss, making the compound effect of the collection hefty. In ‘Knoll Beach’, the speaker not only envisions the subject of the poem “slumped like sculpted rock … shoulders slack inside your coat” but shows layer after layer of loss – words shifting their balance, rocks breaking and opening “like scars, thin/ white lines bruising blue then mauve”. Until, finally “your body’s gone/ and all that’s left is the yell of gulls”.
The more loss there is at work in the poems themselves, that is to say the more the poet strips them down, the more effective and affecting they become, and in one of my favourites, ‘Sea’, everything depends on the last word, the possibilities it offers. Here is the whole poem:
          I hang seaweed on a doornail.
          It is psychic, predicts all manner of things.
          My weather glass, my barometer of change,
          it keeps away spirits and fire.
          I know its air-bladders are mouths
          and they talk of nothing but rain
          when I pass. I hear their whispers.
          I wait for the sun to die.
          Pursing my lips and whistling across the sea,
          I bring home the wind, the tide turns.
These are determined poems – their bleak beauty will hollow out a place in you, and will rest there.
Order Snow Child (Pindrop Press) here.
Visit Abegail’s blog.
Clare Best‘s poems are widely published in magazines including The Rialto, The London Magazine, Magma, Resurgence, Agenda and The Warwick Review. A chapbook, Treasure Ground (HappenStance 2009), resulted from her residency at Woodlands Organic Farm on the Lincolnshire fens. Breastless – poems from the sequence Self-portrait without Breasts with photographs by Laura Stevens – came out with Pighog in 2011, and Clare’s first full collection, Excisions, was published by Waterloo Press, also in 2011. She teaches Creative Writing for Brighton University and the Open University, and lives in Lewes, Sussex. Visit Clare’s website here.

Abegail Morley’s Snow Child

Abegail Morley lives in Kent where she works as a librarian. She is guest poetry editor for The New Writer and her first collection, How to Pour Madness into a Teacup (Cinnamon 2009), was shortlisted for The Forward Prize Best First Collection. Snow Child (Pindrop Press, 2001) will be launched at The Phoenix Artist Club on Charing Cross Road on Tuesday November 15th from 7.30 pm. All welcome.


“Abegail Morley’s Snow Child gifts us bold, unflinching, memorable poems, dazzling in their precision and clarity. This is a poet who faces life’s wonders, complexities and losses head-on, and invites us on a lyrical journey which will, at times, take our breath away.”

– Catherine Smith
“At the heart of Abegail Morley’s powerful second collection is a deep sense of loss. The poems work at countering that loss with tangible visceral images that both disturb and sing with their own gorgeousness. Morley has captured just what it feels like to be living inside a skin so thin, the sun burns right through in all its lucid glory.”

– Helen Ivory
“Intensely personal poems of love, desertion, obsession, written with great skill and delicacy yet with a disturbing sparsity and uncanny detachment. Snow Child is a captivating and impressive collection.”

– Malcolm Carson



In the half-hidden dark of the garden hedge,
worm-curled I wait for you, one hand over my mouth,

the other snatching at blackness, scrabbling at leaves,
dragging dry soil so I’m covered by night. I coil, fists clench —

I eat air. My stomach retches, coughs up
earth. I know you wait until it is too late

for me to pass unseen. My veins lie open
for you to pick your way through my body.

I crawl, there’s mud on my hands
and knees. From here the garden spreads itself out:

the lawn leans to the left of the house;
from this angle I could roll myself up the path,

bundle through the back door, keeping below
knee-height so you wouldn’t see me.

I roll on my belly but do not fold —
my limbs stick out where once they furled;

hip bones grind stones, and all the time the leaves
say too much — they witter in the wind.

If I can be still long enough, this will all work; I will
outlive you, but my head has turned inside out —

it shouts to you. I know you have come for me.
You carry a leash between your teeth.



You left whilst I was washing my wounds with vinegar,
skin burning, stuck full of pheromone —

it attracts violence you know, pheromone,
it yells to others, Sting her, sting her, sting her.

My eyes slip in their own liquid like wasps
skidding on sweetness in a jam-jar trap.

By now you’re 50 miles away at the Dartford Tunnel,
thrumming your way through. Here my skull’s stuffed

with wasps bashing their wings, wedged between
bone and skin. Soon their humming stops.

I see them sink in the syrup, their legs struggling,
compound eyes flicking mosaics, ocelli fuzzy,

out of focus. We look at each other for the first time:
my irises saffron, flaxen  — sticky with sleep.

They drown when I tell them, He can’t come back.

from Snow Child (Pindrop Press, 2011).

Visit Abegail’s Pindrop Press page.

Visit Abegail’s blog.
Visit The New Writer’s website.