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TIM THORNE

Review of 'Extraction of Arrows', by Kathryn Lomer

U.Q.P.



The most obvious characteristic of Kathryn Lomer's poetry is its sensuous nature. In the very first poem of this collection sight, smell, taste and touch are evoked with a compelling immediacy that might even be too intense for the subject matter. This gives the piece a heady, intoxicating quality, leaving the reader wondering where it is all leading. Where it is leading, in the first instance, is to sex, with the opening lines of the second poem, a poem which also adds the sense of sound to the mix.

From here to the book's final poem, "An Honest Woman", whose eponym "collects crooning names to call a lover", all our senses are cajoled, pampered and stimulated as we follow the poet on a journey which is much less superficial than the richness of the works' surfaces might suggest. Indeed, this last piece is a measure of how far we have been taken into a more cerebral and emotional area than we had, perhaps, realised we were heading for. Lulled by the overwhelming richness of the experience of reading these poems, we have been seduced into thinking, perhaps ever despite ourselves.

That, surely, is one of the most significant things that poetry is all about: the arrival at the intellectual by way of the sensual. The very greatest poems achieve this seamlessly, simultaneously. Poems that do it effectively at all are rare enough, and to read a first collection that manages to do it so consistently is a privilege.

There are some small imperfections, the occasional flaw in the fabric where the effort of trying to find the right word shows, but in no instance does this spoil more than a phrase or a line.

The core of the book is a series of poems dealing with pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood, although "dealing with" is an inadequate phrase to describe the way these subjects meld with both the wider world and the poet's inventive, almost playful, interaction with language itself.

The poem "Linea Negra" is a good example, bringing words from hugely differing lexicons, words like "oestrogen" and "clishmaclaver", to work together, at the same time moving out from the literally one-dimensional (the "line" of the title) to the universal, to "the creed / of love and other women".

Similarly, an otherwise very different poem, "The Freedom", gives us more than a bus trip through Central Europe. It presents us with "the march of life and love and death", a march to the beat of the bewilderingly changing tempo of late 20th Century Europe, but a march which is also conducted in time with the poet/narrator's emotional journey "when dominoes and love collapse". Some may argue that this yoking of the personal and the political is a little glib, a facile conjuncture of convenient references, but the story of her neighbour on the bus weaves the two strands together in a satisfying way.

Geographically, the book ranges widely, from Tasmania to East Timor, Ireland, Japan, various parts of Europe. No matter what the setting: suburban garden, mountain pool, potato farm or Alpine village, Lomer's descriptive touch is sure, and her landscapes are even better when peopled by the characters she delineates with warmth and empathy. The squid fishermen, the potato cutters, the minimally but powerfully sketched Paddy McIntee of Kinsale and others: those who populate her poems add an extra dimension.

This is a collection to savour, not just for its sensual delights but for its insights into the richness that lies below the fascinating surfaces.