The human body is constantly changing. Capable of being strong, developing healthily through adolescence, for example, it can also weaken through illness or injury. In One Still Thing, Nell Regan’s latest poetry collection, the fluctuating fortunes of the human body is presented through the weather and different elements. These changes (from solid to water to gas) within her poems demonstrate the transformation of our bodies from health to sickness. Upon picking up the collection I was curious as to how Regan would achieve this, but the result is impressive, especially in her use of sounds to evoke emotion.
One Still Thing is split into three interloping parts, with inspiration drawn from the poets own experience and also the history of the world. Regan’s influences are broad and apparent throughout the collection, and it is through these inspirations that she presents the nature of change, and the effect it has on us. The broad quality of her influences can be seen as the collection moves from a selection of poems based on Hokusai’s “Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji” to poems about war and torment.
Throughout this collection, the poet utilises her History degree by planting herself in the lives of people who lived long ago. She combines this style of voice with some more seemingly biographical perspectives. For example, in one poem, she looks skywards as high winds tear down her uncle’s shed and his work; in another, she is an Irish woman migrating to the USA in the 20the Century. Regan is able to make the transitions between these voices seamlessly, allowing the collection to tie itself together; one writer, many voices.
Her poems are often consumed by sound and nature. The winds and harsh side of nature are presented in sounds that stick in your throat, whereas the gentleness of nature is depicted in soft lulls that almost rock you to sleep. This can be seen in the poem “Bay Area” were the rainfall wakens the speaker and has him calmly check on his lover and the world outside his window:
The tiny feet of the rain dance
On the slant roof of my sleep.
The alliterative sounds in these lines conveys the sound of the rain outside hitting the roof, and suggests a harsh transition from softly sleeping to suddenly awakening. The rain dancing, awakening the man, demonstrates the beauty of nature which can be appreciated even while it causes a disturbance. Again, we see a form of transition, this time from the feeling of peace to that of disorder; we are shown how these two emotions can interlink.
The number of syllables and word length vary in relation to emotion. We see this in her poem “Passage”, for example, where a woman leaves her home in Ireland, anxious for the transition to a new country and worried about what she is leaving behind:
in an altitude of confusion
Here, Regan is able to depict the unease the woman is feeling through the constantly changing syllable count. Going from two to nine syllables then to one, suggests the woman’s troubled mind, as she remembers her brother back home, then thinks of the future she will have in America. This technique allows immersion in the woman’s emotions, enhancing our sympathy for her.
As a whole, One Still Thing depicts what it is to be human and how we are constantly changing, along with the world we inhabit. The collection also conveys the complex emotions that go hand-in-hand with these transitions, allowing us to empathise with many of the feelings and stories that Nell Regan presents.