Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Review – Poems for the season of Imbolc by Kris Hughes


I recently received a very short, self-published chapbook by an author whose writing I was not familiar with. I get nervous about reviewing people’s work—I don’t like to hurt feelings but I also don’t like to say I love something when I really don’t. Somehow the stakes seem even higher when it is self-published, I suppose because they don’t obviously have anyone else promoting the work for them, so more depends on one review, but equally they may well be depending entirely on their own eyeball when it comes to editing, layout, and so on, which as many writers have shown is not always a great idea. So it was with some trepidation that I awaited delivery of this booklet.

It arrived shortly before Imbolc. To my relief, it looked pretty darn good. The layout is done with an artist’s eye, though there is little decoration; it is printed on nice paper; there were no wild claims on the back cover: all promising signs.

Because of its subject matter, I wanted to review it right away so people could know about it before the feast day, but it is my busiest time of year and it just wasn’t possible. At last today I had a clear enough mental space to sit down and read the whole thing at once and pay it the attention it (and the author) deserved. I have to say—I love it.

Twenty pages all told, including front and back matter, Poems for the season of Imbolc focusses on the Scottish tales of Bride, Angus, and the Cailleach. There is a short and useful introduction and then four poems, “If Angus Would Come,” “The Cailleach Becomes Bride,” “Cailleach Rant,” and “Woman of the White Sky.”

Apart from “Cailleach Rant,” which is a prose poem of gathering power, the poems are free verse, telling their stories pithily and beautifully. Their tone ranges from lilting and passionate to wild and world-shaping, climaxing in a defiant call to giant selfhood.  I will give two small tastes, but far better that you read the book all at once. Often this is not the case with poetry. It’s best to take deep sips of one or two poems and then sit with them before going back. But Poems for the season of Imbolc is strongest when taken all together, from the longing of Bride for Angus to the transformation of Cailleach to Bride to the roar of the Cailleach to women everywhere, to the brief silence of the final poem of praise to her.

… If Angus would come
He would search for me
Guided by the light of a thousand candles

He would know my abode
By the sark I have hung on the window sill
It collects the snow, to be wrung as dew
To ease his wounds when he comes …

                        from “If Angus Would Come”

… I cackle again from the treetops
raising a storm that sends the cattle
lowing and bucking in indignation
from sleet like knives
for the shelter of the dyke
The ponies
lower their heads to the ground
tails plastered to their legs …

                        from “The Cailleach Becomes Bride”

What does it feel like when life turns out not to be a journey, after all, but an immense impermanence?

                                                from “Cailleach Rant”


Kris Hughes said...

Thanks for the lovely review.

Mael Brigde said...

You're very welcome! Thanks for the gorgeous poems. That's a lot of learning, experiencing, thinking, being that went into those writings. That is very clear.