Inner calm and confidence


Paper Patterns
, Angela Topping (90pp, 10, Lapwing)


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 Patterns
,  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 concrete act:

     I don't understand what death is
     that can split us apart like a knife
     parting the 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
     to connect with you again
     you who have passed through
     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
     like 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 wind, father
                   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.

    Carolyn Richardson 2013