Frankie McMillan: There are no horses in heaven
Canterbury University Press, New Zealand, 2015
25 NZD, 18.99 USD
Poetry Review by Agnes Marton (Hungary/ Luxembourg)
Published in The Ofi Press issue 44.
In her latest collection, ‘There are no horses in heaven’, Christchurch poet Frankie McMillan explores human nature (and what it feels like to be human, “gabbing our names, where we’d / come from and who would know /how this would end” (‘Observing the ankles of a stranger’).
What can save us? McMillan gives numerous answers in her poems: curiosity, oddities, details, the knowledge of the fearless, dreams, emotions (expressed through myths), metamorphosis, daring and at the same time veil-like language, humour and tenderness. She examines relationships in all seriousness, facing tragedy and loss, but through comical moments.
“He keeps a menagerie
of glass giraffes
wrapped in a yellow cloth
long necks sticking out
his father in dark goggles
thick hood over his head
molten is the word that conjures
the lassoing of glass
with tungsten pick,
the mad heat and thrum of the room
once there was a woman, but
as in all fairy tales she fled
the man spins a glass dress
filling the space with his breath”
(The glass blower’s boy)
McMillan gets astonished by the magic of everyday life (“her bone corset // begins to sing” –The travelling corsetiere; “say the crafting of a shoe / as if it were a living thing” – The accordion players). In her world all the characters are colourful and artistic, and even the occupations are unusual, fantastical: corsetière making, bell ringing, glass blowing. Every detail contains cause and consequence: “(…) the clean carcass / of evening sky” (The taxidermist dissects his dream).
These are badass but compassionate, haunting poems, sometimes in neat couplets (Coddle), sometimes with the breathless utterance flow of a frightened child (In the nick of time, a deer) or wife (We three). Her approach is often surreal, at times cinematographic.
The cover is by Lyttelton artist Nichola Shanley, original artwork, reflecting our close connection to the animal world (especially to horses). Throughout the book – the cover image, the titles of poems, and the dividing pages – we meet the colour blue. It adds to the soothing quality of the collection.