Review in Artemis poetry magazine (2008)
by Dilys Wood
Lines North, Pat Corina, 2008, Soundswrite Press. £5 ISBN 978-0-9550786-3
Reading Corina’s posthumously published first collection is all too reminiscent of the strong but courteous and supportive, outgoing personality who contributed much to Second Light. But the poems speak for themselves, not least the memorable Settlement, a first-prize winner in a Second Light poetry competition, later published in the anthology Images of Women (Arrowhead, 2006).
We sometimes hear the terms ‘amateur’ and ‘professional’ poets. This is a dubious distinction which can place many women, who begin serious publication late, on the wrong side of the tracks. A more meaningful distinction would separate those who are occasional, fairly light-hearted poets from those like Corina,
capable of writing amusingly it’s true, but very deeply committed to the craft of writing well and the idea of poetry as a high art form.
Three things strike me about the best poems here: sense of form; sense of continuity with the past, in the use of language and in other ways; and ‘being her own mistress’ in thought and approach. The Introduction reveals how Corina saw herself as a transported Northerner. This explains the significance of ‘exile’ in some of these poems, such as Lines North, a poem based on historical letters passing between separated mother and daughter. This poem combines realism, tenderness and deliberately underplayed high drama, also effectively used in other poems.
Settlement is an evocation of a distant past in which an arranged marriage is negotiated:
I stared through my hair
my hand loosing the knots from the curled fleece
teasing the burrs free
until a strand became clear
to pull through the card.
The voice of the ‘sold’ young woman shows more curiosity than fear. Lurking behind the plainly told story, is the modern phenomenon of forced marriage, selling into exile as it often is.
Corina is strongly aware of poetic tradition. This is reflected in studied care in her use of language and her concern with writing and writers. A favourite poem of mine here is Passing Agny (burial place of Edward Thomas), a. fourteen-line poem set out in seven couplets. It is a poem of subtle tension. The poet wants to visit the grave, to pay homage. The poet’s partner takes the line — also respected by the poet — that the visit would raise painful issues about war.
Losing her chance to see Thomas’s “chiselled name”, Corina compensates: “gathered the words [i.e. the poet’s words] in my mind like a guiding thread”. The intensity and complexity in this short poem, which is also about the mortality of the travellers (“a silence bounding what futures we have”), is typical of Corina’s true commitment and scrupulously sustained ‘gravitas’.
In Remains Corina invokes that contemplative mood in which landscape seems to yield its buried past. The Northamptonshire midlands landscape is subtly invoked, “you can sense cold fingers of the north / pinch at the case of the south”. The poem peels back the long grass, then, to reveal hidden bones — also revealing that its subject is the series of crosses set up to mark the journey of Queen Eleanor’s remains. It looks at the king’s attitude — part posturing, perhaps, but also sincere: “a journey’s fulcrum, balancing / whatever stays with what is left behind: / the inexhaustible half-life of love.” The last line, with its beautiful oxymoron, is quite a stunner.