‘And when I taste the taste of you, it is the layered shell sprinkled-tang of all recorded time.’
The quote above is the last line of the 1st poem in Jane Dougherty’s debut collection, a collection that opens straight away into the sea’s water and the air’s rain falling onto the earth with its rough edges of fragility, thick sweetness of honey and shells of echoed songs. And that is exactly what each poem is here; a finely tuned echo of a song once sung.
Nature unravels the truth of its beginnings and the path toward all its endings across these pages; in the great arched sky, the moon and stars, the cry of the owl and the footsteps of the fox. There is a fine line sensuously navigated here balancing the order of life and death, an order reflected in how carefully each poem appears on the page, how it follows the last and makes way for the next. Nature is rampant but not always at peace, like the darting robin and the blackbirds who forget to sing and the lonely whale in the poem Blue Whale Debris- the last witness of the decay, sentinel with nothing left to guard but these endings also bear echoes of the light that sparked joy along the route still shining even if it’s only as bright as laughter in the dark or in the hope that we will drift with the gold of summer sunset in our eyes…as long as it’s together. The acknowledgement is of both love and loss, the burning sun and drowning wave, being alive and knowing death is growing out there, between the blue and the red. Blood, of course, flows through this collection, that which is thicker, or thickest of them all, blue and rich and poisonous, running through the veins of the body, of the Earth, of these poems, all streams, all liquid flowing, floating towards the heavens or roots growing down into the deep, dark dampness of the earth. Blue comes first as a returning colour, not only for the water but also in mourning for all that has passed and then red; for all the suns setting over the land, for all the suns setting fires to all that once roared.
The title of the collection cleverly returns throughout the poems to add further flow, albeit with slight turns and twists, always the same water but never the same droplet, with titles like The Thickness of the Water, lines like water dilutes the thickest blood and thicker than water but not clay and the poem Things that are Thicker than Water which exposes the narrator’s understanding, and perhaps acceptance, of all that is almost too much to bear; the tightening of knots, the squeezing of the heart, the fear of losing, the loneliness, the weight that pulls you down into the ocean and the incarnadine stain left behind in the water. When looked at from a certain angle, life can be unforgivable and yet, there is beauty too in this struggle, in this observation of all we cannot control like the fragility, and perhaps the predestined fate, of Ophelia laying herself and her sorrows, with the help of darkness, into death; Take me to the river, she said, where sunlight dances on golden points… So, he did, and they did, for a moment.
Midway through the collection, we hear the storm is coming on gulls slender wings; the pace here is that of the winter wild, running reckless, whether we are getting closer to heaven or to hell, a dystopian landscape unfolding under the blues growing grey coming towards the ocean of mist; and where will we shelter, you and I, when the sky tears its coping from side to side and then, with a nod to James Joyce, we are swept back to the ancient lands of our ancestors where our tongues taste the breath our mothers breathed, still twisting beneath the soil, whispering of smells from the language of the dead; air and rain and turf and corduroy.
There are cycles here; not just with life and death but in the movement of the water; running, rising, falling, returning, in the scents that come back through new noses, exploring, hunting, gathering, shedding, a realisation that all things have a time to breathe and, later, a time to sleep as if the narrator has sat in the garden of the Earth and watched how the animals go about their business without questioning or worrying or losing time over the why.
As we come to the final poems in the collection, noticeable words rise up that perhaps were not as visible before in the struggle of life; happiness, euphoria, kisses, passion, the singing of blackbirds, desire and the memory of a life lived; when I am old and have no fire’s glow to coax the blood to frozen fingertips I’ll think of those raw days of long ago and how you warmed the magic with your lips. Age brings with it a balance, an acceptance, an admittance of what has been and what must come to an end and with that comes the end of a collection where the reader has been transported, tasted the rain, drowned in the waves, felt beaten, broken and then a breath of air that resuscitated, offered rebirth, brought me back to buoyant. The final poem leaves us perfectly with the Well Water; the red foxes and the horses and a reflection of all that will become stars.
I’ve followed Jane Dougherty since the early days of WordPress, have taken up her poetry challenges, marvelled at her knowledge of poetic forms and styles and loved her time travelling novel The Pathfinders, but this is the first time I have had the chance to read her work as a collection and it is an astounding accomplishment. I note the dedication to her mother Mary and her father John and I think she has listened well to their voices from beyond and they will be proud. A poet who is in full control of her flow and that shines throughout every carefully created line, each vision she has painted and the love and respect of nature that we are invited to witness through the eyes of someone who has been paying very good attention.
Thicker than Water runs deeper than its simple size suggests. It is light to the weight but buy it now and see how the wait for its arrival will deepen the worth of its contents.
You can find Jane’s blog on WordPress below…
And you can buy her book on Amazon…