There are plenty of poets out there who hope to capture the
vagaries and complexities of the human heart, love, friendship, loss and the
resurrection of hope through the use of
abstraction or metaphor, but very few who use the quotidien.,the
simplicity of every day speech to mark the tiny importances & large events of life.
There are exceptions of course, Philip Larkin, Patience Agbabi and Nina Boyd,
the Huddersfield poet, perhaps. Angela Topping's new volume, Paper
is explemary in showing us that poetry need not be verbose,
self-knowing, curled-lip- clever. Her work reads cleanly on the page and
having heard her read some of these works on the stage, sound clear. But her
work is no bedtime story.
The viscerally of some of the works show her ability to cut finely into the
fabric of life and love with small, careful incisions. An example of this
clean incision is shown in 'Catching On', the elegiac sequence of poems for
Matt Simpson, the renowned poet
& literary critic and close friend of Topping. These poems are
intimate and often painful to read, yet never mawkish, cloying or tugging too
tightly on the bowline of sentimentalism.
In 'Severance' she transforms the awful abstraction of loss into a single
understand what death is
split us apart like a knife
green flesh of a plum
Her admiration of Simpson and his work is deeply palpable throughout this sequence.
Later on in 'Severance' she writes
I have to
find a way back
with you again
you who have
the skin of
the night into my pores
But the writing about death and loss are not the only strengths in this
volume. Topping is equally at home on topics as diverse as Liverpudlians, Dr
Who, jam making and Sharm El Sheik.
The jam making series of poems are a paean of praise to fruit pickers and
preservers, interspersed with a poem about eating sugar sandwiches as a
child. The sequence of poems about nature and in particular 'Moorland Voices'
remind us of Plath's verses, written when visiting Hughes' family home near
Todmorden, Yorkshire. 'Bog Asphodel' in particular has this Plath quality of
grasping the essential, the unyielding element:
They say we
hurt sheep. It's all lies
How could we
harm any living thing
Look at our
starry crowns, glowing
monstrances in the sun's halo.
At the beginning of the volume is 'The Lightfoot Letters'. This is a sequence
of poems based on a set of letters bought by an artist friend of
Topping. The letters,
coincidentally turned out to have been written by members of Topping's
father's family and recall family times in the winter of 1923. Poems such as
'Birthday Sixpence', 'Ada' and 'Father Skating' show off Topping's visual,
almost photographic, ability to zoom and pan round scenes she can only have
been accorded the tiniest glimpse into:
Lean into the
let skates speed you
across frozen pond
I get the feeling that this is also Topping's attitude to writing. No
artifice, no overwrought analysis, just an inner calm and confidence that a
fair-set wind will catch an idea and let it glide over the page shaping a
pattern, not of paper, but of well hewn words.