Mrs Perkins and Oedipus by Elizabeth Bartlett.
Published on Elizabeth Bartlett’s 80th birthday, this is a remarkable account of powerful poems, evoking feelings of deprivation, disappointments and loneliness. Her work has a natural quality, immediately engaging the reader.
Each poem has its own feeling, using a frugality of words, yet bold in attention to detail. The work is brave and emotional, a compelling journey and a fascinating read.
It is hard to choose a favourite. I particularly liked Staring into the Abyss describing memory and loss. ‘ I read your novels and journals/ which are all I have of you/ and wear your socks and jerseys/ to keep me warm, give back the zimmer/ the commode, the incontinence pads/ and weep, for what you were; and I have lost.’
Bartlett writes about real, ordinary people who have lived through great distress, some of which she has experienced herself. These are painfully accurate visions into people’s lives. She draws on past loves and ill fortune as she faces up to the tragic loss of her husband.
Although tough and sometimes surreal, she is also courageous, amusing and mockingly scornful. In Photography Class she shows yet another side to her writing: ‘ Mrs. A brings her transparencies/ (work that one out) / and Hugo with his nudes.’ And The Tutor? ‘ He aims/ his zoom lens/ at landscapes, claims/ affinity with rocks and stones, never pins down humans/ in their natural habitat./ His topography is erotic,/ but his wife is fat.’
A collection of 49 poems, it is certainly a good narrative. I genuinely enjoyed it, though at times the content is raw. Bartlett is an observant truth-teller, and rightly so.
Mrs Perkins and Oedipus is published by Bloodaxe Books.