home
Susan Utting Susan Utting 

REVIEWS

Acumen
Review by Belinda Cooke

THE JOY OF A REAL FIND
Houses Without Walls
by Susan Utting

Think of the joy of a real find, say Keats looking into Chapman’s Homer or John Peel discovering ‘Teenage Kicks’ by The Undertones , and you’ll have a sense of what it’s like opening Susan Utting’s Houses Without Walls . Utting devours experience providing a dazzling cornucopia of the senses. She sets out her stall immediately in ‘Catechism’ when she says language has “bloodied the roof / of my mouth with its acid”. In a sequence to her mother, the imagery is in turn hyperbolic and surreal as she recalls objects, images and moments of her mother’s life “My mother’s house is moving down the street: / it’s a double decker bus and she’s on top”. There is often a paradoxical, upbeat quality in her descriptions of negative experience, shown here in the nursery-rhyme language of ‘Her Bones’ – a weird mix of joy, regret and fairytale horror:

While life was playing out its game of tag,
of kiss-chase, rock-a-bye, releasey-o
its pantomime charade of chase-the-lady,
close your eyes and count up to a hundred,

ready or not, the witch’s footsteps at her back

She’s great at writing poems about what’s not there, such as in ‘Today’s Blue’ with its dissection of an imagined world: “Today’s blue’s nothing turquoise, it does not / shift in the light from duck-egg bright to aqua”. Resilience to life’s knocks is shown by way of humour in poems like ‘For Herself’: “Today she will by tulips for herself, because / she’s worth it”. In her poems on relationships it is the sheer wizardry that will stick in your mind such as ‘What Lasts’ with its amusing list of offerings from various lovers, like the one who “tossed her pancakes, fed her gingerbread / and danced with her”. She makes the trivial into something novel as in ‘To a Woman at the End of an Affair’ where a haircut becomes an extended metaphor of a break-up, described with beautiful precision: “There is a pleasure in the sound of sharp steel / cutting wet hair, like a guillotine through heavy paper,” This is poetry that tells us how to thrive on having loved and lost – a small press edition that you won’t recycle.

Copyright, Privacy & Design