Carol DeVaughn

A review of Everlove by Maggie Butt

This heartfelt and moving collection opens with a sequence inspired by the American  artist, Mary Behrens, in her series entitled Run, on the plight of refugees. Maggie Butt’s poems speak both as witness to the devastation and as the mind of the refugees, as if what is being witnessed is also unravelling in the psyche of the dispossessed. 

from ‘Own’ : 

Not very long ago 
maybe days or weeks 
there would have been things you owned
a watch   a bed   a radio   a car

Now you own the limp clothes
hanging off your body
the smell of your own sweat.

The poet imagines what she would do, what she would need to survive.
from ‘Eat’:

I think about rice.
Just that.
How much I’d need for a meal,
Not to feel full, but unhungry,

And then the water 
to cook it.
Could we carry that?

And water to drink.

I think about water.
Just that.

from ‘Post’ (in contrast to the Utopian poem, ‘The children’,
which appears later in the collection):

Now calculate love here – where the barbed wire
fence is prised apart until a slot can be held

wide enough to post a toddler through,
gift wrapped in knitwear, addressed to

the dreamed-of place, where the streets
of his future are paved with peace.

In ‘Strand’, the initially abstract image:

a fine black lace
edges the waves
between the velvet 
of the sand
and the frothy tulle
of the waves

… becomes ‘a straggle of people’ struggling to make their way to the shore. The poet as viewer conveys the impact of realization, as the truth of the image gradually dawns on her, while retaining a sense of utter disbelief. In this poem, as in many of the poems in this collection, the sense of immediacy is palpable. The viewer becomes witness and the witness becomes the consciousness of the subject. 

In the philosophical prose poem, ‘Map’, the whole wave of humanity from its origins is seen moving onwards, oppressing and being oppressed: ‘So then, nothing new,  people gusted into piles like autumn leaves, the isobars shifting again, coming this way.’ And ‘Flood’, with quotes from The Bible, brings the long history of war and the present together. In ‘Hurricane’ the on-going threat of natural disasters is graphically personified:

Ophelia flames a warning
………………………………………over the skies of Europe –
that her kind will come again to beat
their great batwings…

………………………………………the writhing seas
(hell-hounds grown huge with meltwater’s grief)…

As with many of Maggie Butt’s poems, she shows the connection between seemingly  different worlds. The damage to one part of life (as with society’s outsiders, the dispossessed) is mirrored in the damage to another part of life ( the natural world). If some strands of a fabric begin to unravel, the rest will follow, sooner or later. From the beautiful sonnet, ‘The Fallen’: 

Huddled round brazier, backs to the world,
in robes of slush-grey tatters, barefeet
charcoaled with city dirt …

…and the circle closes, blocking the curious,
prohibiting pity. One speaks and the sound
is an iceberg splintering. Another replies
with the crackle-and-roar of forest fire.

In the eloquent prose poem, ‘What Nana Knew’, the poet again shows different worlds coinciding. The poet’s grandmother is healed of a physical illness in the traditional visionary way with certain herbs, which then opens a door for the healing of a wounded heart, ‘when she sees a golden-haired three-year-old … her still-born baby, now fat-limbed and healthy, growing up in another world, just veiled from hers …’

‘The Repair Shop’, inspired by the BBC TV programme, is also about the healing touch.
‘…pilgrims cradling/broken offerings … longing for ‘the priests and priestesses/ with the 
power to touch …’ to ‘return them to the untarnished/wholeness of the past …’
Having begun with the words, ‘All our locked-down days’, the poet, with finesse,
highlights the trauma of losing touch on every level and the longing for 
‘someone … to repair time
to return us to the days before the age of touch
slammed shut in our astonished faces.’

The poet’s skilful use of repetition always serves the pulsebeat of a given poem, and enhances the sense of immediacy that runs throughout her work. And in the bonding of single words into phrases, a kind of music is generated that reminds me at times of Gerard Manley Hopkins. This poetic device is used in many of the poems, including ‘Norwegian Wood’:

Cinderpath snakes down between trees
…………..from top-of-mountain, zigzagging

through birch-beside-spruce, rock-over-shale
…………..fern-under-bracken; fjord glimpsed below

never climbing closer, its sparkledazzle
…………..flashing hints of an outside wood

sunshineworld, a miniature city with muss
…………..of rooftops, cars which are firefly

glints-of-light; while here is all dapplehush …

The title of the collection is taken from the poem, ‘everlove’, where the poet begins with the rather wonderful line, ‘everything has to be somewhere’ in the search for her lost earring, and in the searching she ponders:

‘and you must be somewhere too   
as physicists say
energy cannot be created or destroyed …’
in relation to the death of a loved one. A profound poem, written with beautiful simplicity.

In the sublime prose poem, ‘Fruit’, the poet considers how long it takes to learn something:

‘… thinking of all-the-things I’ll never learn … and all-the-things I can’t make-right,
the enormity of knowing; watching the lemontree, with its white, waxy flowers,
slowly learning to be fruit.’

The collection finishes with a sequence, ‘All About the Light’, focusing on the Spring Equinox, Midsummer’s Day, the Autumn Equinox, and the Winter Solstice, the four particular times of the year when the subtle relationship between the light and the dark is more apparent in the natural world and in the human sphere.

This book is a profound work of empathy and compassion. It gives solace and inspires.
As Maggie Butt says in her poem, ‘Dawn Chorus in Amherst’:
‘… in spite of everything – 

there is joy in the world …’

Words by Carol DeVaughn.

Everlove is the sixth poetry collection by Maggie Butt is out now.
More information on Maggie Butt can be found here.
The digital launch for Everlove, which took place in May 2021, can be found in full here.

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