An independent small press poetry review

NHI independent review
Diamond Twig
5 Bentinck Road
Newcastle upon Tyne
ISBN 0 9548186 1 X

email Diamond Twig
visit the website of Diamond Twig

NHI review home page
FAQ page
Notes for Publishers

book reviews
other media

Web design by Gerald England
This page last updated: 11th December 2007.

Heather Young's collection A KIND OF MINK covers a range of themes, moving from everyday observations of growing up, family and domestic life, and the death of her son to descriptions of television documentaries and sculptures.

The poems are very accessible, detailing as they do, the ordinary things of life. There is, however, an element of existential seeking in Young that permeates much of this collection, even in her more personal poems, everyday domestic concerns or the lives of her family.

FIRST LESSON, 1943, in its observation of a child's perspective of a first day at school, has a delightful humour. Young takes us directly to the child's sense of awakening to what life has in store:

	Yet, I sense she'd miss nothing; was even
	wiser than Granda, and more sneaky than our cat
	snow-stalking sparrows on our wall.  And far,
	far sharper than icicles fashioned to stab.
Young moves easily from the direct, closely observed style of poems such as MY PLACE, where a small child (returning to school after contracting chicken-pox) waits in terror whilst the teacher's ruler lifts her kilt
	in search of tell-tale holes you'd get
	if fingers strayed to pick the crusts
to the deliberate and rich use of language and imagery evident in THE LAST TIME:
	She was at the bottom of the cut when through
	the window I nearly missed her last wave.
	I tumbled from the cracket, ready now
	to ask my sister what the operation was for,
	considered my Maths homework, but
	settled for my George Formby sing-along,
	jumping and waving as though cleaning all
	the windows in the land.
The ease with which Young evokes the portrait of her mother leaving home for an operation that, even without the need for direct speech, forms a lament, is stunning.

In MARY MAGDALENE, 1994, Young crafts a fine and deliberate portrait of a sculpture by Kiki Smith which she saw in Gateshead in 2004. Mary Magdalene speaks in the first person, expressing how she atoned for her sins by spending seven years in the wilderness with a chain fastened to one leg:

	'Pressed into my wilderness for seven years,
	am I now atoned?
	My chains grown in to flesh?'
As the poem progresses, it becomes clear that Mary Magdalene, despite her restrictions, is able to stride in defiance of her detractors.

In B&B 1989. the poet engages the reader in her solitary exploration of the meaning of her son's death. The poem raises questions about the undignified process of death, the hurt undergone by the boy's sister, the way in which her son would have laughed at the whole procedure surrounding his death and the fact that his lodgings in the Chapel of Rest were

	more pricey than years
	of foreign Youth Hostel beds
	with breakfast as well.
After his death, Young is posed with a problem. In SNAPSHOTS OF A DAUGHTER-IN-LAW, she wonders how to recognise from
	in my son's room
which girl might have been her daughter-in-law and decides
	But perhaps you are the one who, nearest his heart,
	laid the single red rose on his grave.
At first glance, A KIND OF MINK might not seem a particularly ambitious book, the wryness, humour, concentration on domestic minutiae, the resignation and humility of the poet in the face of the big issues, all would seem to undercut any larger claims. This, I believe, is deceptive, for it is the attempt to create poems out of such concerns, such ordinariness, such common language, that ambition resides. Young not only has aims that belie the modesty of her work, but she achieves these aims through her attitude towards what life has to offer and to her undoubted verbal skills.

reviewer: Patricia Prime.