Although Any Other Branch is Ivy Page’s debut collection, her work is already much anthologized and is well-published in numerous respected journals. Additionally, she is the founder and editor of Organs of Vision and Speech Magazine. Perhaps tellingly, her dedication to “my best beloved, Stephen & for my girls …” opens up a highly moving and, in parts, very personal book.
The collection is divided into four parts: “Men”, “Room”, “Girl” and “High Tide”. the first section is announced with confidence, quoting from T.S.Eliot’s The Hollow Men. Unsurprisingly then, the poetry which follows is modernist in its use of language and sparing with its punctuation. Indeed, in some of the poems such marks are entirely absent. Consider “Soldiers”, which is completely devoid of the conventional grammatical mechanisms of pause and stop. This results in verse very able to convey the eternal nature of war and aggression. Contrastingly, “See” (in “Girl”) is short and iconic, with inbuilt, punctuated reflective spaces. Indeed, Page’s creative use of punctuation is a feature throughout; a spectacularly successful example of the poet’s ability to combine the lexical and grammatical in a concrete, purposeful way. The brevity and force of Page’s verse is striking and the effect upfront, in keeping with the stark and uncompromising imagery. “Male Seeking” is bitter-sweet funny and sexy, structured as an advertisement, but with a hard, verbal left hook at the worst of the hollowness of men:
breasts that could be
compared to hard whipped
egg whites –
Even in her darkest moments – in “Death Call” and in “Roosters”, there is a straightforwardness, and intrinsic integrity, describing death in a way which is both personal and universal. The latter bows out with the succinct “You can only have one rooster”.
“Room” has a humour and a sensuousness largely absent from the first section – from the soft flow of “honey” and “suckle” in “Word Diet” to the powerfully erotic “Twice Baked Cunnilingus” … all “essence”, “creamy”, “smoky” and “melody” rich. Enjoy, too, this section’s rhythms, rhymes and image-dense alliterative qualities. In “Insanity”, for example, we hear “padded walls, prickle”, “freckle my face” and “shake-down, drown-out”. Many of these poems are in the first person, even when the themes are huge.”Rock and Flesh” illustrates the exploration of the personal in tandem with the contemplation of the cosmos –
Calm comes as I imagine the woman
in her wicker clicking in rhythm
with the ocean wave; rhythm that moves us…
The third section, “Girl”, is broken into numbered, defining titles, such as “6.Hand” and “3.At 14”. These titles are short – sometimes only a single word long – and the poems themselves are correspondingly brief. The subjects and style are extraordinarily intimate, and there are some very well-nuanced return volleys to some of the earlier poems in “Men”.
The title page quotation of “High Tide”, “all I want is a human window/in a house whose roof is my life” (Ilya Kaminsky, from Marina Tsvetaeva), is illuminating and here we have the greatest variety of subject, style, stanzaic form and atmosphere. Compare the immediacy of “Tribute”, with its short couplets, to the prose poem format of “Compost”. Warmth, humour and intense observation run through all of these poems. Page conveys not only deeply personal moments, often with surreal touches, but also the eternal, universal aspects of humanity, which she is equally adept at unveiling.
If any poem can be said to give the flavour of the book, it may be ”Blessings” in this final grouping – a neat, balanced and rhythmic poem which is all at once laser sharp and engaging.
Give me light in the world gone dark in the center
of some black rose, some angelic tar pit,[…]
This is an exquisite collection, warm, womanly, timeless and thought-provoking; challenging and enlightening poems for all – and thoroughly recommended.
Jo Chapman Campbell