Almost every poem in her new collection bursts with warm-hearted, no-frills kindness, bearing testament to her good-natured, commonsensical view of life. Indeed, it’s as if she and her publisher, Mother’s Milk Books are destined partners - a veritable match made in heaven.
But what the casual reader won’t know is that Bryant, already a multi-prize-winner, is at the hub of a network of talented writers and performance artists - mostly based in the Northwest of England - who much appreciate the important professional information she gathers and publishes regularly - all free of charge.
Further, if I’m any example, she is unstinting in the praise she offers other people’s work. But enough of frivolity! First, I must point out that not only have some of the poems in Look At All The Women already appeared elsewhere, but that Bryant allowed me to read one of them, Gifts of Fruit for Travellers, at a meeting in Israel a couple of years ago when I explained that she is not Jewish but a warm friend of the community. I chose the poem then because it empathises keenly with emigration - an experience that many Jewish residents of Israel surely share.
Perusing the collection has also been an educative and occasionally humbling exercise. Before reading The White Rose, for example, I knew nothing about the German resistance group of that name or of two of its members, Lutheran Christians Sophie Scholl and her brother, Hans who were executed for treason by the Nazis in February 1943.
Further, the moving piece, Sacrament proves once more how much poets from different cultures owe the Bible as a source for personal creativity, although we may use it from our many perspectives:
“You taught me the song of Solomon,
beloved husband, and silently we sing;
mouths, tongues fruit ripe to bursting.
Credo. This is an act of belief,
of us erased yet also magnified”.
There are also moments of devilish levity and I’m sure most people reading Dinner Invitation will nod sagely and recall having had to endure a similar date. Oh, dear ….
This brings me to the title poem where the author looks at a host of different women and their lives:
“Look at that woman writer!
It’ll be all flowers, dresses and chocolates
at her many literary award ceremonies”.
We all wish that for you, Cathy. You deserve it and I’m convinced this particular piece will become a much read and beloved modern classic.
But I conclude now on a deliberately dark note by choosing a wryly astute piece of the sort that may be penned only with the wisdom of maturity:
“Yet another of her friends died and Rae,
seventy eight, sighed as yet again
she crossed out an entry in her address book
and ironed her good black frock
and wondered why she of so many was left,
and what she could do while still here;
until presently she wasn’t, and her friend Jim
crossed her entry out in his address book
and remembered her laugh, and went a bit watery
as he brushed down his well-worn dark suit;
and he felt as if he alone carried the burden
and knowledge of his generation, important work;
and then he copped it too, and, the torch passing,
someone else felt the same”.
© Natalie Wood (22 May 2014)