Carla Grosch-Miller’s ‘Lifelines’

Carla Grosch-Miller’s collection Lifelines (Canterbury Press), 978-1-78662-234-3.

I have kept company with this book most mornings for the last couple of months. It is a trustworthy book – by which I mean that the poet’s evident zest for life and love is discovered in and through struggle, and the griefs of the deaths of her brother, mother and father. This is no easy appeal to goodness or to joy, but material won out of and beyond bitterness of experience.

The book begins with a long section tracking the church’s year. Unlike Malcolm Guite’s fine sonnet sequence Sounding the Seasons (also Canterbury) the verse here is free and colloquial, but insight is always breaking through. On ‘Christmas Morn’ we are described as ‘complicated dust’. In ‘Bent over’ an old woman is ‘looking to the time/when I shall be emptied of all but love’.

Indeed Grosch-Miller is very strong on the beauty of old age, extraordinarily evoked in one of the early grief poems of the second half of the book. ‘I saw beauty in the fragility/of her shrinking shoulders… Saw it in her thick thighs and pretty feet/the pixelated skin of her ankles and shins.’

Beyond the grief section comes Carla’s own struggle with faith: ‘It slips between my fingers/this faith that once sustained me./The graceful cup I make with my hands/prefers emptiness now,/the kiss of wind,/the memory of water.’ Here are poems that will speak to many who find themselves in a place of emptiness. And poems of the resolution that keeps on keeping on – ‘I will walk to church today’ (‘Sunday morning’), and is surprised by grace. ‘Grace is grace. It comes… I pray that each heartbreak to come will/crack the stone/and allow more Love to seep in.’ And always the honesty, the accuracy of tone, as in ‘Psalm for the Dead’, and the ‘Mother’s Day Prayer’ which balances a prayer for vigour in giving birth with a prayer for courage in facing death.

The book relents, towards the end, and offers us less intense, if no less wise, poems from a walk on St Cuthbert’s Way. Good prayers for any pilgrim, from one whose own journey has given her the right to pray ‘Receive the full weight of my being/Read the tilt of my body as a leaning into you/Render my soul to be fit for heaven on earth’.

So I commend those drawn to this website, by acquaintance with or interest in tragedy, to consider this remarkable book – which would be a true and giving companion on their journey of exploration.

Christopher Southgate

July 2020