Wednesday, May 6, 2009

She Wore Emerald Then - cosmic imagery and homely down-to-earthness

I recently had the opportunity to read a collection of poetry by Magdalena Ball and Carolyn Howard-Johnson called She Wore Emerald Then - Reflections on Mothers and Motherhood.

It is a collection that movingly illustrates many aspects of motherhood and, if you are a poetry lover, there is much that you will find appealing and thought-provoking. In the first half of the book, the poems by Magdalena Ball have a cosmic quality to them and some wonderful imagery. In the poem 'Coil of Life', for example, giving birth is described as the 'Big Bang' and in 'Assault by a Black Hole', the reader is taken on a journey from the sublime to the commonplace and you can't help but smile:

A powerful jet from a black hole
is blasting nearby galaxy 3C321
with outrageous galactic violence
x-rays, gamma rays
particles travelling the speed of light
tearing ozone layers
destroying alien life forms
and breeding new star systems
a million primordial sons
in the lethal pummelling.
Talk about tough love.

In the face of that million year
(a fraction of the system’s lifetime)
I suppose I have no right
to complain
about one smart, sharp smack
sent my way
to facilitate a few manners.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson's poems have, by contrast, a homely down-to-earthness which also appeals. I loved her description of dandelion petals in the poem 'Dandelions in Autumn':

Yellow petals, pollen-soft
like monarchs' wings.

Little lions' manes
like illustrations in childrens'

books, not like roaring
Serengeti cats

or the MGM logo lion, harmless
these. I pick them, bunch them,

hold them under Mama's chin
to see if they light her throat

yellow, and if they do, delight!

In the poem 'Musing Over a New Calendar', the author reflects on the passage of time - how there is still so much she wants to do and see, yet her ageing mother is 'alone, rejecting all but her home'. I felt the author's pain in these lines as I did in the poem 'Mother and Daughter' where she describes her job of 'mothering again', but this time it is not her children who need her help but her own elderly mother:

...I take over seatbelt
duties, step ahead of her then stop,

reluctant for her to know she's slow.
We all forget names, I say as numb

moves from hand to heart
because it is my name she has forgotten.

Yet, despite such painful memories and associations, perhaps the strongest is the 'eternal warmth' of our mother's bed – as Ms. Ball puts it – 'a shared space/ free from the ticking illusion/ of time, motion and change./ Here, where you are always welcome/ nothing matters/ except this peace/ this place/ containing every possible now.'

A wonderful description of what makes mothers so special, don't you think?


  1. Helena, had to drop by and thank you for the exquisite review of Maggie's and my chapbook of poetry. I even love the keyword/labels you used. (-: Your reviewing skill reflects the lovely work you do with your own poetry.

    Carolyn Howard-Johnson
    Tweeting for authors at

  2. You're welcome, Carolyn. Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to read your book - it has broadened my poetry horizons and introduced me to two wonderful authors!

    All the best