I’ve known Sarah and her writing for four years – we were both involved in Jo Bell’s 52 group and have stayed in touch since. I was delighted to hear that she’d signed up to publish her debut pamphlet with the excellent Half Moon Books (previously OWF Press). But regardless of the fact that Sarah is a friend, I have to say that The sky is cracked is a really enjoyable read which is by turns heart-breaking, optimistic and downright joyous.
I’m a big fan of pamphlets, especially when they serve as an introduction to a ‘new’ writer’s work. In particular, the short collection format allows the poet to focus on a moment in time, reflecting on how they got there and where they might be headed.
The sky is cracked in nicely bookended by two short, but very memorable poems (‘Caution to a poet i)’ and ‘Caution to a poet ii)’):
When you write about
watching someone sleep
each time you lie awake
they will be beside you
in the darkness.
When you describe
someone’s eyes as sea-glass
they will travel
to every beach
Both have that sense of the dream-state we often inhabit when we write, happening upon the magic in everyday moments. And that, really, is one of the things that Sarah does exceptionally well with this pamphlet.
I’m a sucker for a short poem, and so Sarah’s work is always going to appeal to me. I like that way that her (mostly) short lines have plenty of room to breathe on the page. They invite you in and feel very intimate, like words murmured just as you’re going off to sleep.
There’s a strong narrative running through the poems, which begins (in ‘Inbetween the cracks’ – which is dedicated to Jo Bell and the 52ers) with someone stuck at home, trapped by circumstance:
“She won’t leave the house until after dusk
and then only to source fresh paper and beige food.”
But the narrator suddenly spies a “rainbow goat in the hallway mirror”, a somewhat psychedelic image which cuts through the beige of daily life and spurs her on to make a momentous change:
“Its indigo fur itches
where she wants to scratch.”
This poem feels like the jumping-off point where the writer decides to make a break from her current life, of cutting paper into tiny pieces only to “post each piece through gaps in the floorboards”. This feeling of malaise is echoed in ‘A blot on the week’, which dwells on the image of a metaphorical stain, which leaks and oozes throughout the week, until:
“By Friday the sticky black
has clogged your purse, hairbrush, keys,
left a smear on your mobile screen
over the face of your son.”
It’s an affecting and memorable image, which further underlines the poet’s sense of blighted helplessness and desperation to protect her son at all costs.
After resolving to get out and about, ‘Knowing how far lost to get’ seems to take it to the extreme, in which the narrator gets “lost on purpose/in an estate/I know is safe” but recalls a trip to Sheffield where, like a fish out of water, she found herself in a pub which proclaimed itself “for friendly people” but “didn’t believe a word”.
Often in the pamphlet Sarah writes longingly about the past, whether that’s technology (‘Of the 90s’, ‘Burnt’) or indie bands (‘A bit like falling in love’, ‘Singing yourself fifteen’). But rather than dwelling on those feelings of alienation and grief, this book moves beyond them, away from a failed relationship to a place of resilience, strength and happiness. ‘Scrape off the name’, in particular, feels like a significant part of that transformation:
“I wrote you out of my system
in two A4 pads,
posted our history
into an aeroplane toilet
But the mood pivots here and the last few poems in the collection point towards the warmth of friendships, and the sense that solo adventures could soon be a thing of the past. By the penultimate poem, ‘Urban mermaid’, the narrator is talking of beaches and the sea, open spaces, not the suffocating confines of houses and streets.
I’m looking forward to reading Sarah’s next book; whenever it happens and whatever direction it takes, I’d put good money on it being full of her sense of adventure, love of guitar music and enviable ability to illustrate complex emotions with economical but highly charged writing.
Like any good album, The sky is cracked grows on you each time you revisit it.