Chatto & Windus / Random House UK ($18.95)
by Kevin Holton
In The Catch, Fiona Simpson displays the minutiae of suburbia with frenetic energy, so even the calmest acts, from standing on a ferry and watching the shore to listening to animals scurry about as the sun sets, become chaotic. The poems in this collection, almost uniformly written with a consistent stanzaic structure, are fluid, filling an impression of form rather than being entirely free or traditionally written. This amplifies the book’s theme of the natural world not needing to be confined by human rules, a theme given life through her descriptions of people walking barefoot through roses even when in downtown apartments or subway trains.
“Clothesline” exemplifies this by blurring the border between daily chores and a profound experience with the environment. The narrator is hanging wet sheets out to dry when there is a “rise in clouds from the clean sheets,” adding significance to the otherwise unremarkable image of sheets blowing in the wind. The poem ends with “I will swim down to the river/ arm over arm among slips/ and sheets and pearled river lights,” showing how the speaker perceives few defining boundaries surrounding domestic life, using the river image to show beauty in those banal tasks.
Some of the poems lend themselves more easily to the nature theme. “Arcades,” for example, may trick younger readers into thinking it will be about a video game arcade, if they don’t know that the primary meaning of the word is “a long passageway that is covered on both sides.” These are often created by tree branches bending toward each other, or vines curling around a trellis. The definition makes the meaning of lines like “one continual linked pouring/ the way arcades go” clearer, in this case referring to the way each vine blurs into the other. “They do not/ know the morning or the evening” is made clearer here too, as the arcade provides shade throughout the whole day, especially since it is “in the shade under/ the cypress tree” creating an additional layer of darkness upon the already darkened pathway underneath, which might trick the unaware into thinking day and night are one.
It isn’t easy to make the mundanity of daily life interesting, but Sampson accomplishes this with ease. Her lyric style and poetic form blend seamlessly, as do nature and the cruel concrete of modern cities within her work. Fluidity reigns throughout these pages, and readers can swim through her vibrant imagery much like her narrators do through streams or down cracked sidewalks. Contemporary mankind and the aged earth, so often opposed, fit neatly together here, a yin and yang as familiar as black ink on white paper. This is a fitting collection for any reader’s shelf, whether that reader is looking to celebrate the balance of two separate worlds, or looking to reclaim one they have lost.