Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Chez Nous Recommendations for Fragile Houses

WITH NINA LEWIS' FRAGILE HOUSES

Sit by a window, probably an old one criss-crossed with leading, overlooking a lawn, but just as well a sunny dormer across roofs sketched in aerials. Pick up Fragile Houses and open it. The photographic art of Sarah Leavesley is rye bread to Nina Lewis' relish, these bitter-sweet poems.

I am going to let in the frosty air, breathe in "electromagnetic memories." It's these little moments when life runs most real. Lewis writes with class and clarity. Her poetry is earthly but inhabited by spirits. A grandmother looks at a photo, "the young girl turns."

Let's try food laced with tradition to go with this. Identity, and a simplicity that is not easily achieved. "Dining tables with black and white prints, a tablecloth of lives" make me want to admire exquisite dishes of sushi, before carefully selecting each one.  A little square plate on the cushioned window seat.

Nina Lewis' precise household scenes are deceptively colourful, blackly outlined. I have chosen Japanese food to go with this book, to throw the Englishness of her work into high contrast. In both cases, I am nourished by the strength of cultural identity and belonging.

Like Leavesley's accompanying illustrations, the poems are assembled from bric-a-brac and love. Each is rounded off with such a deft flick, unexpected or even abrupt but satisfying every time. I'm thinking of neat Japanese single malt to follow, smooth going down and fiery on the inside.

The poetry is "split like a spilled yolk / between love and something darker". The family history Lewis invites us into is tender to the point of hurt, and inseparably loyal. The rice has a gentle vinegar to it, the seaweed brings with it all the flavours of the deep. Then you taste the wasabi.

Gram Joel Davies


Photo by Robbie Elford
Gram Joel Davies lives in Devon. His poetry has appeared in Lighthouse, Magma and The Moth, to name a few. You can find him at http://gramjoeldavies.uk.

For a sample poem from Fragile Houses, please click here.

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