The Guardian, 24 September 2005
These are whispered poems, folded into small spaces; delicate,
pointillist portraits of the half-seen, the barely there. Esther Morgan
takes the reassuringly domestic - linen and lavender, recipes, kitchen
gardens - and destabilises it, building it into an insubstantial,
twilit world of moths and fairy cakes, "the honeycombed skeletons of
birds", walls that are "eggshell thin". Her houses mutate back and
forth from places of refuge to prisons in which "you wake bricked-up".
The inhabitants, both dead and living, are ghosts: the maid who
vanished after smashing the dinner service, the beaten wife who no
longer recognises her face in the mirror. In the central section, the
wife's story, the delicacy of the earlier poems becomes the "cruel
delicacy" of "concocted torture", while the silence of the title is
"the sharp cry lodged inside your cortex", the stifling silence of
things unsaid. but it's in this silence that Morgan's power lies. She
refuses to sensationalise. Death, loss, abuse - all are considered
obliquely, through windows, paintings and photographs, a strategy of
deflection and understatement that throws the turmoil lurking just
beneath the surface of these poems into sharp relief.
The Times Literary Supplement, 14 October 2005
These are poems of moody and menacing interiors, with their "locked
rooms and skeleton keys", an imagined half-sister to whom the poet
offers the tribute of sleeplessness, and a vision of "Business.
Property. Appointments. Money" going up in smoke as a newspaper is used
to set a fire.
Morgan explores the perennial reserve of mystery attaching to
even the most familiar dwelling, since "Every house contains a room
that doesn't exist". In the punningly titled 'Self-Possession', she
conjures a ghost as a kind of domestic pet "so I can sleep safe at
night". In 'The Ghost of This House' she goes further, and describes a
usurping sprit who "is forgetting to believe in me". Non-ghostly
presences include imperious and domestically violent males, whose
aggression is projected onto the house itself in 'House Rules': "a
flight of stairs/throws you full length/a door walks into your face."
The book is arranged in three sections, with the theme of threat and
violence building to a climax at the end of the second. In
'House-Breaking', Morgan describes her preference for a "roof of sky",
and the demolition work required to tear a house apart from the inside.
It is a fitting metaphor for the struggle in these poems against their
self-imposed claustrophobia. In 'At the Parrot Sanctuary', however, the
book appears to end on an equivocal note, with its image of visitors
leaving the birds in their cages to "the silence that only comes/ when
we are gone". Is their silence a wise passivity or surly dejection?
Parrots are, after all, noisy birds. These well-crafted poems relish
their atmosphere of sylized confinement, even as they know that true
liberation may require opening the door and letting the prisoners out.
Iota 72, Winter 2005
The Silence Living in Houses is an absorbing journey in
place, with grandmothers linked to granddaughters, through
daughters/mothers obviously, but also bey treading the same
floorboards, looking through the same windows, crossing, or at least
at, similar borders. Dreams are here, so too everyday tasks, routine
and ritual, and domstic vilence: stark,
harrowing, but again stoically contained, and therefore exceptionally
poewrful, as in 'house Rules': "Tonight he addresses
your flesh -/ Look what you made me do, he says/ as a flight of stairs/
throws you full length,/ a door
walks into your face". It's true that even a painting - Vermeer's Milk
Maid - is employed as a tool
to recreate the existence of "my mother framed in the misted kitchen
window, her eyes closed and
no way of knowing/ what it was she was asking for". However, there are
images that stretch away into
an awareness of a broader perspective, of other places where a woman
steps from her clothes to swim
a border river, presumably desperate to escape a political rather than
a personal repression. And she makes it,
too, rising from the water full of optimism and fresh, clean
innocence..."hauls herself out like a fish/
to stand in the first light with nothing/ but the skin on her back".
Yes, these women suffer, but even
in persecution, or in death they have stories to tell. Esther Morgan is
a crafswoman who has learned her trade -
for example, she has the delightful ability to shut up when the poem
has said its piece - and this
book is a treasure.
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