Gerrie Fellows is no stranger to poetry, having written four other poetry collections in the past decade. However, having taken a break after Window for a Small Blue Child in 2007, she returns with The Body in Space.
Fellows’ new collection explores the poet’s interest in the exploration of human insignificance by its use of strange and often paradoxical natural images. Even the stranger to poetry would be enticed by the beautiful and quite magical pictures conjured by lines such as “stones flung above a beach (the way a hurricane enters conversation)”. These odd descriptions are enticing, their outward peculiarity enthrals the reader, to enter further into Fellows’ sphere, a journey presented in three sections, the first of them entitled “The Miraculous World”.
The line breaks used throughout coupled with a chaotic-looking free verse style, makes the poems seem rather disjointed and, arguably, unnatural — even rather stilted for the reader to follow. Once used to the pauses and breaks the collection’s concerns and recurring themes become clearer. The now-primed reader senses how and when the more light-hearted, spiritually lifting and natural images of the first section of the collection take a twist into something darker, the second and third parts having a far more sinister path to follow.
Once Fellows has set up her world, the story descends to a much deeper and far more personal level. Many argue that biographical poetry is always the strongest form of verse, and here at least, their case seems to hold water. The poet cleverly combines this later and confessional aspect of her work with the already familiar natural images. In section two, entitled “At the Alien’s Gate”, haunting lines take a study of human existence and mix that scrutiny with sinister and quite worldly pictures. Uncomfortable yet enthralling reading, Fellows’ use of the unconventional to describe different kinds of human suffering is masterly. Consider “A Poem of the Blood and the Body”, where “the epicentre of an earthquake / shiver of pain that skewered you / until you screamed” is graphic in its description of human suffering.
Fellows explores not only deeply personal relationships, including those in her family, but she also examines death, when it is very close indeed. In “My Mother’s Body Interrogated by Light”, Fellows writes “This is what happened before we knew that her hands would stiffen as twigs, that her brain would fail to solve intricacies of a knot”. What had previously been a hopeful poem subverts with a dramatic change in verse, and this is very graphic, moving and also apt use of imagery. The full stop at the end of the quotation cuts off her hopes, and is in itself symbolic.
Though death is present in the collection, life is also its subject too. Fellows examines her own life in respect of the grandeur of nature, discussing her feelings on moving to Scotland when she was younger. “Jane driving me to the airport past gardens reeking with nectar for there / Spring has continued without me / And here I wake / no longer at home”. What resentment of leaving, and what homesickness is captured in those few words.
Fellows’ comparisons between humanity and nature are compelling. She offers new, intricate ways to consider human life, exploring its significance and insignificance. The Body in Space will stretch the experience of the regular poetry reader and the newcomer alike.