My first response to And She Was (that’s a Talking Heads’ track) is vindicated by the inclusion of a quote from that very song in the frontispiece – “The world was moving, she was right there with it” – very fitting for this collection’s tone and pace. Sarah Corbett has written a remarkable book, which compels you to pause, savouring her words’ beauty and power, yet simultaneously to press on, exploring this strange new world, much like the effect of those David Byrne lyrics.
And She Was contains three sections (“Nocturne in Three Movements”, “The Runner” and “Pinkie”) with multiple pieces in each. Ostensibly, they are separate stories of pairs of lovers. However, parts of each section stray into others, and ultimately, interlinking imagery and repeated symbolism suggest that the characters have more in common than we might first imagine.
The chord progressions in the poems’ titles reflect what is happening in each section – In “E Major”, powerful imagery and metaphor are linked by the repetition of “And she was…And he was”, and often the reader is surprised by the reversal of traditional sexual imagery, a powerful element throughout.
And she was
A snake uncoiling from its burrow…
And he was a flower grown from a word…
“Nocturne in Three Movements” moves to “C Major”, the tone changing dramatically to a more prosaic form; Corbett employs prose consistently and effectively to reflect the baser intrusions of life:
And he needed a job and she needed a job
and the banks crashed and there were no jobs.
“E Minor” hints that the female lover is pregnant, an image which is reflected later :
the heart on her ankle chain
…another heart grew in her
In “Train”, we are introduced to Esther and Ian, who may or may not be the earlier couple, and this creates a real impetus for the reader. In The Runner, we meet Felix and Flick. Again, hints and ambiguity abound, and we are never sure exactly who they are or how they are connected. Are they two sides of the same person?
…but she’s no more than half girl though
something in her pulls at something in him
as if they are two hands of a cat’s cradle.
In Pinkie – Esther and Ian return, and we follow their story again, interspersed throughout with links back to Felix and Flick;
Solomon’s wharf, The Bunker…
Roses browning in the vase
In “Under the Lamp”, we are lead back to a much earlier image
We are drawn into the stories by the imagery, the language and the tones and rhythms throughout. The melding of individual identities allows interpretations of this “Verse-novel” on multiple levels, enhancing our emotional experience, and our inhabiting of the collection’s challenging other-worldliness.
“Locket”, the penultimate piece, is a heart-shaped conversation; once more we return to that image of the heart to re-raise the questions of identity. In “Running”, the final piece:
He knows he had a wife and lost her, that somewhere
between past and future is his daughter,
that this night was a forgetting to remember.
These paradoxes are a reminder that when we think we know something about the characters and stories, we are then immediately cast adrift, realising we actually know nothing; herein lies a possible resolution.
This “Novel-Verse” is a delight, to be re-read and puzzled over; it enchants us with stories of sex and death, love and loss, and of identity and anonymity. The tales hang from images of colour and form, of nature and industry, of the urbane and the gritty. I’m still uncertain exactly who is who, and what it all finally means, but it was a beautiful experience, and I want to repeat it. In the words of David Byrne that titular song,
She was glad about it… no doubt about it
She isn’t sure where she’s gone.