No 168 - 2002
The Wedding Spy, Linda Chase, Carcanet £6.95
Linda Chase has a mature voice, encompassing the weight of experience as well as intensity of feeling. An American by birth, she now lives and works in England and the pull between the two cultures is sometimes uncomfortable.
I thought I liked the look of weathered gold,
the wilting sound of madrigals and lutes
so here I am in England where it’s cold.
But I was wrong America unfolds
her glitz and kitsch. Her honky-tonk pollutes
the part of me that’s wise and far too old.
The book is divided into three sections, the first deals mainly with America, family and childhood. The second centres around her involvement with mysticism and Tai Chi, and the last section consists mostly of love poems.
She has a laid-back, conversational style, which can contain a complex and much darker reality. The first poem in the book, ‘Manhasset Saturday 1.The Chinese Laundry’, depicts the experience of a young child on an errand to pick up her father’s shirts, and turns an innocent event into a traumatic one by the end. The story is unfolded carefully, bit by bit. At first she can’t even recall the actual shirts, merely their packaging, but slowly the details come back to her. Eventually her gaze widens to take in the whole shop and as it does so, she recalls something that happened to her and describes it. This is a very clever poem, and a moving one. It has a cinematic quality to it, ending on an impartial image that brings us back to the innocent beginning:
One woman ironed by hand,
another used the giant press for sheets.
Steam and starch filled the shop front with
The title poem, ‘The Wedding Spy’ is a cryptic poem with almost too much concealment of loss within. It is as if, to keep herself safe from exposure, Chase has adopted a nihilistic tone. I understand how this can happen, but it can lead to a kind of dissatisfaction when the writer conceals not the thing itself, but the intensity of feeling surrounding it.
It’s not so much personal revelation one wants, but personal poems. In her prize-winning poem ‘What to Do with Sorrow’ she offers this. The poem begins with a question: “Can I sing a short song to your sorrow?” And proceeds to offer a number of witty solutions to an unbearable situation:
I could take your sorrow out, this afternoon.
I could take it swimming with me in the lake.
As the poem proceeds, the tension builds until the last verse takes the reader down to another stage of grief and the question suddenly asked is decidedly unnerving:
Do you remember how the water smells?
a bit like mud and bit like dying reeds
and plants and a bit like fallen petals of water
‘The Dinner Kiss’, from the last section of the book, is both witty and sexually evocative; the beginning of an affair, or the quintessence of sexual attraction, beguilingly described. Again she tricks you into thinking this is a light poem about the ennui of having to give dinner parties but the poem suddenly shifts into another gear, surprising and erotic:
So, when you walked around the table
and lifted me out of my seat
as if your mouth had done it alone
without the help of your arms,
I rose, a stringless helium balloon,
so light, hovering over the table,
I thought I would never stop rising,
not ever, and then the kiss began.
I like Chase’s poems for their honesty, their warmth and their wry sense of humour.
- 10th Muse
- Angel Exhaust
- Blithe Spirit
- Brando's hat
- Brittle Star
- Cannon's Mouth, The
- Coffee House, The
- Dream Catcher
- Floating Bear, The
- French Literary Review, The
- Frogmore Papers, The
- Global Tapestry
- Grosseteste Review
- Homeless Diamonds
- Interpreter's House, The
- Journal, The
- Lamport Court
- London Magazine, The
- Modern Poetry in Translation
- Monkey Kettle
- Neon Highway
- New Welsh Review
- North, The
- Obsessed with pipework
- Oxford Poetry
- Painted, spoken
- Paper, The
- Pen Pusher Magazine
- Poetry Cornwall
- Poetry London
- Poetry London (1951)
- Poetry Nation
- Poetry Review, The
- Poetry Salzburg Review
- Poetry Scotland
- Poetry Wales
- Private Tutor
- Purple Patch
- Rain Dog
- Reach Poetry
- Review, The
- Rialto, The
- Second Aeon
- Seventh Quarry, The
- Smiths Knoll
- Strange Faeces
- Tabla Book of New Verse, The
- Tolling Elves
- Ugly Tree, The
- Wolf, The
- Yellow Crane, The