Jonathan Humble, Features Writer

Review: Wish By Katerina Neocleous

The debut collection of Katerina Neocleous, aptly titled Wish, would grant an afternoon of delight for anyone lucky enough to have a copy. The poetic skill of the author and the care with which she crafts each piece, weaving imagery through words that evoked a range of emotions in this reviewer, was impressive.

From ‘Burr’ to ‘First Dreams’ the words held my attention throughout, each poem a delight, each line a joy to read as we witness how complications within problematic relationships colour lives beyond the simple observations of the outsider; souls are laid bare in this collection.

In ‘Burr’ we try to come to terms with feelings that won’t be defined, yet persist and are in some need of resolution:

“but I am not his and he
is neither friend nor lover.”

The attraction is implicit but the question is will it be resolved? The two stanzas tantalise in ‘Burr’ as flesh is teased and irritated as would happen with the hooks and spines of this botanical hitchhiker. Then, in ‘Ashes’, I found I was witnessing the next chapter in such an early relationship:

‘… velvet leaf buds
that recall those long

black gloves I wore
to trace your trembling
outline – neck to hip
and down a little more.’

And while still obsessing about the previous poem, the glimpse at the end of a changeling hare, and words woven with nature imagery, felt like a portent of an ominous tide of movement in the subject’s life, perhaps borne out by the diabolic reference in ‘Necromancy’:

‘before you summon him
reflect on this
then wield your will;
harness the stars
and your inner hell
from its event horizon.’

Whatever it was, I was hooked and moved on hungrily through the work, each poem composed as would a fine piece of music that draws you in; free verse laced with the occasional rhyme or near rhyme, controlled by a conductor who could not be labelled as predictable.

Anyone who knows me will be aware of my weakness for trees in poetry. ‘Cherry Blossom’ reminds me of a tree in the grounds of the school where I work as deputy head; the first to show amongst a generous range of species and as such, the first to be wrecked by any sudden change in the weather. The beauty afforded by the blossom is fleeting, and the wonderful innocence within the poem is beautiful as well, but persists longer through the poet’s words:

‘Cut to this scene:
my girl, age three
- in pieces –
as it tears her up
to see the cold wind

decimate the tree’s
delicate blossom,
helpless as
its shattered parts
fill the air.’

Emotions in childhood can be sharp, occasionally volatile and often very close to the surface. In writing poetry about childhood and adolescence, mawkishness could be a trap one falls into, but in this work, the subject is covered so well by the poet, with sensitivity and insight in poems like ‘A Day In Early Spring’:

‘Almost overnight, the girl I know
is blossoming. Now she returns
from town, unsatisfied by
how little it can offer

long hair ruffled by
the easterly that howls and
flings hard rain at everything;
comes in and slams the door

bringing a small flurry
of soft hawthorn petals
to rest beside her trainers.’

Perhaps the process of blossoming has come to an inevitable end as the child moves moodily into adolescence, yet (speaking from experience) the parent still sees the flower. For myself, this poet’s work makes one want to revisit one’s own poetry as a benchmark check against such skill with words and ideas.

I once wrote how I am drawn to poems which appear deceptively simplistic and yet are crafted beautifully, evoking memorable imagery with lines that stay with you long after you’ve put the poem down. Neocleous’s ‘Roker Beach’ now joins Holly Singlehurst’s ‘Hiroshima 1961’ and Mark Pajak’s ‘Cat On the Tracks’ as a favourite in this category. It has become, as the poet states in ‘Roker Beach’...

‘that piece of glass everyone has at heart’

...and is now a place I would like to visit.

I find it hard to believe this Maytree Press publication is a debut collection. I look forward to more from such a talented poet.

Wish is published by Maytree Press

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