Review by Dilys Wood in Artemis, November 2022
A new collection from Alwyn Marriage is always something different as she’s unusually direct and plain in her style while keeping us on our toes through eclectic subject-matter, unusual angles and the ability to cut to the bone. She also conjures rhymed poems with apparent ease, and a glose, a mirror poem and a sestina among other clever formal forms.
The eponymous poem, Possibly a Pomegranate, is one of many exploring different aspects of woman (the book’s subtitle is Celebrating Womankind). The speculative and gently erudite poem about the Eve’s stolen fruit is a good example of a typical Marriage invitation to be serious for a moment: “the hubris of humanity, / our meddlesome nature, our inability / to live in peace in paradise […] But if we take the story at face value / it may indeed have been an apple / or possibly a pomegranate.”
There are a very wide range of poems here about aspects of womanhood. Marriage puts her own life as daughter, wife, mother and ‘modern woman’ fairly centre stage, with moving poems about all aspects of caring, but stretches the personal to include heroine figures, some nameless (such as the refugee in the moving Risk and refuge) others famous, from Sappho to Rosa Parks (“Mother of freedom, who would have thought / you’d lie in state on Capitol Hill”, RP RIP). The poems in this collection were published over 15 years but the sheer number and types demonstrate this poet’s energy and ingenuity as well as her humanity and humour.
She has many subject-matter surprises (almost ambushes) for us. One is a feisty monologue in the voice of Cleopatra, (Cleopatra’s amuse-bouche), which might be one of Ovid’s Heroides poems of women ‘answering back’. Others are: poems about a tap-dancing five-year-old; a female trapeze artist; sheep polishing an open-air Henry Moore sculpture with their rumps; Lot reaching back to touch the salty column once his wife; the poet trying on an old bikini (“Can / Mons Venus still be seen?”, Bikini) or stripping off at the end of the day (“sheer relief as your body / is released from the bullying bra”, Triple relief).
Amongst this wide mix, are less usual very quiet poems which explain little and perhaps say more, such as the ekphrastic poem based on an Edward Hopper painting, Clapper boards: “they cut it into boards // to build the house and paint it white, / catching the light which seemed to fall / sideways on her waiting face // as she stood for hours in the place”.