But to the poems. That first poem Crates takes us on the mental journey of thinking about a crate. Three are supplied for us: a fruiterer's crate, a sturdy plastic tub and a pub crate, each of them very deftly described through careful observation. These are real crates, concrete in the mind and ready for service. Only they are not required for in the final three lined stanza the poem is flipped on its head and the reader has been wrong-footed, tangled in a web with some sixty-nine pages to go.
But it is an enchanted trap where poetry does what poetry does best, enabling the reader to see the world in a new light. Snow for instance in Like Love, "betrays the fox and starves the wren." The woman in Union Street in the poem Shame, pokes at a man "as if he were/a kidney on a butcher's slab."
This is a joy. Earthy, witty and magical, Kith is full of poems which cause you to sit up frequently and gaze out of the window for a while to marvel over what you have just read before you feel able to resume. Read the terror of crossing the hundred feet of water of the Severn in A Crossing before reaching the sanctuary of the Gloucester and Sharpness canal which lays "a sixteen-foot glass slipper at our feet." Or the historical re-imaginings in Infallible and Gloriana where Giotta and Elizabeth 1 speak and authenticity booms from the page.
"Love, sex, boats and friendship" boasts the blurb, and yes, they are all here, but there is also a closeness to nature emanating, I suspect, from living in a narrow boat. How about this for a description of Spring? "The garden's lean, but buds and shadows fatten." and April falling "across the parish like stained glass." in a Nightingale for Gilbert White.
And I haven't yet mentioned the poems of excavation. But let that be because I will be back to this book and I will dig for myself into the layers of meaning, I will be nourished by the humour, prodded by the pertinent phrase and finally, I will take comfort from it like the day's last blackbird,
"holding up its song, a candle flame
as the street lights flicker on."
Jo Bell, Kith. Nine Arches Press 9780993120107