As with her previous collection, My Grandmother Skating (Indigo Dreams), Hex explores ‘the extraordinary with the everyday […] myth, magic and fairy tale’, but goes darker. It quotes Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus (1984) ‘She was feeling supernatural tonight, she wanted to eat diamonds’, offering a carnival feast of darkly sparkling gems.
The first poem ‘Changes’ (p.9), echoes Carter’s Company of Wolves (1979), whose werewolves wear fur on the outside:
…This is how things change …
When you notice that bones
are being worn outside the skin
like gloves, when the scar on your ankle
has become a dagger …
so, the tone of the transgressive and the extraordinary within the ordinary is set.
It’s a magic carpet ride through history, myth, literature, art, personal experience and the everyday. Jennie has a skill for inhabiting characters, for the strange within the known/unknown spheres.
The personae provide a conduit for shadow observation at the edge of transgressive darkness, as with Oedipus’ mother in ‘Jocasta’s Song’ (p. 25):
… Many men sleep with their mothers
in their dreams …
‘Blodeuwedd’ (The Mabinogion (c.11C-12C), offers Gothic imagery in tones of E.T.A Hoffmann’s ‘Uncanny’ (p.13):
…But I can’t help hearing
wings beating at the window, the scratch
of claws scraping the glass with my name.
In other incarnations, fantasy and fact inhabit co-exist, with a humorous slant. In ‘Miss Haversham Goes Shopping’ (p.37), Charles Dickens’ character is an aged care-home dweller, remembering lost love in Debenhams:
… Cardy, trimmed slippers, a rug of crocheted
squares over her knees …
…a string of pearls glistening like tears
Amongst dark notes are flashes of humour, as in ‘Changes’ (as above):
… When your pet cat turns feral,
all snarling and claws, and the cushions
in your sitting-room look furious …
Elsewhere, humorous subjects are treated with sensitivity, as with the cross-dresser in ‘Vintage’ (p.39):
… On with the heels.
The backlit mirror flaunts his catwalk twirl,
a tip of the hat … The dog yawns.
‘I Knitted You a Halo’ (p.41) voices the real-life octogenarian Cecilia Giménez from Borja, who mistakenly ruined the church fresco Ecce Homo by Elías García Martínez:
… I knitted you a halo, but you said, No!
You were never one for showing off …
‘Sacrifice’ (p.14), harbours the threat of dark at the heart of early Folk/Fairy tales. Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid (1837) grows legs, to be with her human love. This delivers a graphic shock of what that would entail:
… My new legs are two spikes. At each
step I take, I tread on blades …
But I know our passion will be a sword.
There’s beauty in the language too, ‘If I Could’ (p.30):
… If I could reach the wolf of you,
beyond the sleek lover, the human truth,
… I would lick your paws, anoint your pelt
with my woman’s scent, feed you
on apples of the moon.
The tone is theatrical, with a cast to entertain. Carter is threaded with brilliant, dark menace, when this surfaces in Hex, the page ignites. It’s a wondrous, sensual riot of transgressive themes. For some readers, they may step a little too far beyond their safe boundaries, others would tolerate more bite, but its imagery and language engages.
The work in pp.18-24 and pp.31-32 enters a deeper reality, closer to the poet’s own psyche. The language speaks directly of loss and heartbreak. ‘Snow’, ‘Shadows’, ‘October’, ‘Colouring In’, ‘Like Glass’, ‘Once’ and ‘Pearls’ are finely crafted with unbearable loss. They’re beautiful, moving and almost too painful to witness, as with here in ‘Ashes’ (p.20):
… If they’d given me ashes
I would’ve come to the river,
and let the gentle water carry him
downstream, on a prayer –
but here I stand, empty-handed,
imagining tiny fin-like limbs flailing
against the flow …
These eight poems sit at the heart of this collection. Perhaps they don’t fit ‘hex’ as defined as ‘an evil spell, bringing bad luck and trouble’ (Cambridge Dictionary, online) but loss is a dark force which inhabits its own liminal space. Perhaps they would sit comfortably in their own collection, or perhaps this is what Hex is really saying after all.
You can order your copy of Hex by Jennie Farley (Indigo Dreams) here: https://www.indigodreams.co.uk/jennie-farley-hex/4594369593
Kathryn Alderman‘s blog: https://kathrynaldermanwriting.poetry.blog/