Carole Bromley’s fourth collection contains poignant and reflective poems that demonstrate her skills of close observation, humour and pathos. She is also admirable in her bravery and lack of self-pity. In Meditation on Death, the last poem in the book, even when facing brain surgery that could have left her severely impaired, her writer’s mind is thinking about the powerful metaphors she could use in poems in the future, such as the image of the lone athlete on TV that she notes just before the operation.
To go back to the beginning, the first four poems in the book feature birds, including the peregrine falcons of the collection’s title. In Homing, a racing pigeon provides a young child with the opportunity to stand up at school and tell the class about the bird: ‘his voice steady / no trace of the stammer’. We understand immediately that there is something transformative about this experience:
and all the time his hand
with its bitten nails
stroked the bird firmly.
The final release of the pigeon captures the imagination of the ‘Thirty-five upturned faces’ that watch it disappear. Both boy and pigeon achieve an understated heroism in the succinct nine tercets of this poem, reminiscent of Ken Loach’s film Kes. A less personal poem is Red Kites at Harewood. The visual imagery is stunning. The birds are described as proprietors of the Yorkshire air where ‘they tremble on taut string’. Each line in the two stanzas ends in an –ing sound, which gives a musical quality to the text. The poem ends on a menacing note when we are told ‘Storm Conor’s coming’. We are left unsure whether the kites roosting in the tops of the birches and beeches will survive.
Survival is a theme running through this collection. I particularly enjoyed the poems that celebrated resilience and defiance in the face of cruel teasing in childhood or dealing with the challenges of adulthood. In Sprint, we meet the speaker at eleven dressed in ‘hand-me-down baggy’ navy blue knickers over white linings and a discoloured Aertex shirt that has shrunk in the wash. You can feel her self-conscious humiliation. The mood changes dramatically in the second stanza when she states she is not running for Wenlock:
I’m running for me. I’m running
for the joy of these long feet they rib me about.
She is mocked for her pronunciation, her short ‘a’s’ at her new school and told that when she moves south ‘people will larf.’ Which makes her more determined:
I’m running. In my head I’m seeing how fast
I can thunder my feet on the track.
The hundred yards will be mine
and no one will laugh.
Determination and spirit are explored in a different context when Carole inhabits the persona of various women in literature. They are not all heroines by any means. Aunt Reed from Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre is a particularly unsympathetic character and shocking in her honesty about her feelings for her niece:
I hated the sickly, whining, pining thing.
I’d have sooner have been charged
with a pauper brat out of a workhouse.
The licence to say the unspeakable makes us pause for thought and appreciate the difficult and unwanted roles women were forced to take during the nineteenth century, a theme that runs through all of these persona pieces.
Several of the poems express the poignancy of loss: separation from a son who lives abroad, the loss of a parent, the death of close friends. Carole’s skill is shown in her ability to write plainly and succinctly about these painful events without ever descending into mawkishness. Message stands out in its frank account:
My mother stopped being posh
when she was dying. I hoped
she might at last say she loved me
or just something nice. Anything.
The sadness is palpable and only relieved a little at the end of the poem when the nurse looking after the speaker’s parent admits ‘I was nearly sorry for her / on Thursday’. In fact, humour and wit feature in many of the poems in this collection and balance the underlying emotions of upset or loss. I return to the poem I mentioned at the beginning of this review Meditation on Death. When Carole has to sign a consent form for surgery that could result in death, a stroke or blindness she replies:
I am a writer. The first line
of my poem will be Blindness,
Stroke, Death and I trusted them
and we laughed about it.
Although Carole denies she is brave, The Peregrines of York Minster prove that she is extraordinarily courageous and talented as a poet, tackling difficult subjects in clear, thoughtful poems that pierce the heart and leave us amazed, moved and full of admiration.
Emma Storr is a writer living in Yorkshire who worked as a GP. Her poems have won prizes and appeared in several recent anthologies and poetry magazines. Her debut pamphlet Heart Murmur (Calder Valley Poetry) appeared in 2019. See: https://emmastorr.co.uk/
You can buy your copy of Carole Bromley’s The Peregrines of York Minster (Valley Press 2020) Here: www.valleypressuk.com