A chapbook which was published in 2001 but only just came my way, the work of a true poet in the line of Sylvia Platt, Elizabeth Bartlett and Dorothy Nimmo.
It opens with the title poem, The New Bride, and from the first lines you are grabbed (and you stay grabbed till you finish the 23 pages of poetry that make up this little book). I don’t think either Catherine Smith or her publishers (The Poetry Business) will mind me quoting it here in full. It is, quite simply, perfect.
Dying, darling, is the easy bit. Fifty paracetamol,
bride-white and sticking in the throat, ten shots
of Johnny Walker, and the deed is done.
A twilight day of drowsing, then the breathing
slows to a whisper, like a sinner in Confession.
Death is dead easy. No, what happens next
is the difficulty. You bastard, howlng in public,
snivelling over photos, ringing round for consolation.
And you have me burnt, like a dinner gone wrong,
you keep the charred remains of me on show
at the Wake, inviting everyone I hate. Oh God,
they come in packs, sleek as rats with platitudes
and an eye on my half of the bed, hoping to find
leftover skin, a hint of fetid breath. I leave them
no hairs on the pillow. There are none to leave.
And a year to the day since I shrug off the yoke
of life, you meet the new bride. In group therapy.
You head straight for a weeper and wailer,
telling strangers all her little tragedies. You love
the way she languishes, her tears sliming your neck,
you give in to her on vile pink Austrian blinds.
The Wedding is a riot of white nylon. Everybody
drinks your health and hers, the simpering bitch.
She and Della Smith keep you fat and happy
as a pig in shit. I want her cells to go berserk.
Some nights I slip between you. The new bride
sleeps buttoned up, slug-smug in polyester. You,
my faithless husband, turn over in your dreams,
and I’m there, ice-cold and seeking out your eyes
and for a moment you brush my lips, and freeze.
Wow. Hard to follow that, but there are several other poems in this collection that you’ll want to re-read, and read again later because they are impossible to forget. Like Waiting for the Foot Binder (“The last evening with toes …”) and The Real McCoy, a vampire poem, (“At night I head for the bar with no mirrors and wait …”) and Picture This (“Grandad’s shirt sleeves applauding themselves on the line …”)
Actually, she is rather into clothes lines: in Uncle Aubrey –
Uncle Aubrey is dying. On the line
pummelled by sheet-steel winds
night-clothes bluster and bulge.
This poem finishes (I can’t help quoting it!)
He is dying in Welsh. It is part of me
singing somewhere in my blood
voices of sickness and rain.
“Voices of sickness and rain” – that is Wales in five words, at least the Wales I once came to know.
In Formica, she sits in a café “between coaches” and reads, carved into the formica table-top, the words “Jason fucked Gemma“. Then pictures it happening, there, across that table, and afterwards Jason taking out his penknife and carving while Gemma stands in the drizzle outside “waiting for the Manchester bus“.
And then there’s Stornoway Harbour, where “On the quay, mackerel convulse in buckets, / grinning like madmen …”
If you can find a copy of this collection, grab it. If not, see what Catherine Smith has been doing since 2001. I just have – here is her website: