Angela France, Hide, Nine Arches Press, 2013,  68 pp.  £8.99

A collection gains more substance when you can trace its development out of earlier work. Angela France allows an insight into the process by using two poems from her pamphlet Lessons in Mallemaroking (Nine Arches Press, 2011) to anchor this, her third collection. ‘Prospect’ is printed unchanged as the opening poem, its significance emphasised by allowing it to stand in isolation, with nothing on the verso. It shows what – and how – France’s poems will explore, ending:

     Go home. Search the cellar,
the attic, pull out boxes from under beds,
chests from closets. Look inside.
Learn to wait.

She is preparing us for domestic settings, a rooted past, and what is hidden there. ‘Hide and Seek’ is substantially revised from ‘Hide and Seek Champ Found Dead in Cupboard’, with the major change being from third to first person. It’s as though she has gained the confidence to acknowledge these emotions as her own. ‘Hide’, the title poem, continues the same theme –

I have always craved secret places:
rooms within walls, smugglers’ tunnels,
the book case that glides sideways 
for a knowing touch.

Repetition connects the poems; the same words reappear, like the female figure in ‘Doppelgänger’.

I see her slant    a flicker at the edge of vision
when I’m alone    a hint of shadow in company

I counted seven poems containing ‘cunning’, including the title of a canzone. This can be a tiresome form in the wrong hands but France wisely restricts herself to a single canzone, letting the five end-words cunning, woman, time, given, bones reach out into other poems. ‘Counting the Cunning Ways’ weaves everyday superstitions into the fabric of an old man’s life; ‘Nanna’s Luck’ focuses on the cunning that wins the ‘thinking right’; ‘Homecoming’ conjures how ‘Some of our dead return, they must. / An old woman won’t leave her cunning’. This makes for satisfying reading; the poems accumulate connections and draw on the reader’s own knowledge of those areas. In reading the mesh of superstitions informing the daily habits of the unnamed man in ‘Counting the Cunning Ways’ we call up our own superstitions, matching the page 

He won’t take the ashes out after sundown,
always comes and goes by the same door,
shouts at ravens to chase them from the roof.
He won’t wear anything new to a funeral
and covers his head by an open grave.

France wants to reach out, to communicate her sense of a family and its history and in doing so she makes us more conscious of our own.

Occasionally her technical skill falls short of her intention, especially where a line break does no more than stop a run of words becoming prose but how many collections are perfect? I’m happy to allow her the odd slip because, generally, the fit of these poems is strong enough to carry the whole. Apart from the canzone France avoids formal structures, and this freedom suits her probing, exploratory style; she doesn’t set out to deliver answers but to try to catch what haunts us and how it shapes us. Nine Arches Press have, once again, produced a volume of very high standard impeccably edited, and with an eye for how the poems occupy their space. It is as much a pleasure to look at as to read.


D A Prince



long stairs