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THE SHADOW OWNER'S COMPANION:
Bridget Sprouls reviews Eleanor Hooker's newest poetry collection
Bridget Sprouls was born in New Jersey. Her poems and stories have appeared in Steps Magazine, Scrivener Creative Review, Casino, The Red Wheelbarrow Poets Anthology, and The McGill Daily. Bridget has also been a music reviewer for Times Square Magazine. This past year her fiction was broadcast on CKUT Radio Montreal and shortlisted for the Atlantic Writing Prize.
The Shadow Owner's Companion
(Dedalus Press, 2012)
€10.99 paperback. Buy from Dedalus Press
Eleanor Hooker’s poetry combines the lively and often frightening imagination of childhood with the subtle thinking of an adult mind. Her debut collection The Shadow Owner’s Companion explores pairings of joy with terror, as captured in her poem 'Cold Snap':
I loved it when the world went white.
The land was hushed and ghost-like.
Constellations pierced the night light,
And, deep in the lake, the still pike...
The language here is eerie and vaguely threatening, but its sense of menace cannot be separated from the speaker’s enchantment. Hooker uses formal rhyme schemes in much of her work, but in this particular poem, an obsessive repetition of complete lines, as in the villanelle form, reinforces the speaker’s opening claim (“I loved it when the world went white.”) while reflecting the speaker’s heightened simplicity of feeling—joy.
Hooker doesn’t settle for old-hat descriptive language; her collection contains plenty of new lexical creatures and instances of the bizarre which are entirely comprehensible. As if to push this talent for ingenuity and clarity to its absolute limit, Hooker even recounts her dreams. In 'Nightmare' she grants no more familiarity to a child than to an anomalous beast:
Bug-eyed horrors hover in
our shadows, lingering, carnivorous.
Wailing now to let him stay,
He stumbles after, the talking baby.
Although the imagery of dreams follows a logic too spontaneous and personal for outsiders to decode, Hooker reconstructs this scenario in detail, effectively bottling its emotional essence, like a specimen infected by some horrifying strain of imagination.
Certain poems seem to imitate the amplifications of the subconscious but ultimately miss their allegorical mark, as with the oddly titled 'Calamity', in which a little girl tells two bloodthirsty crocodiles, “...I have shards / of half-light in my heart....” and magically spoils their appetites. A couple of other poems overstep the bounds of experiment into silliness, as in the semi-palindromic 'Echo'; however, the vivid language of these poems still makes for piquant reading.
The symbol of the clock would seem all to obvious, too direct, for a poem entitled “Wasted Time,” but with a seasoning of irony, Hooker takes unique ownership of the material, tackling her subject head-on rather than consenting to “tell it slant” as Dickinson recommends (don’t try this at home!):
In every room a ticking clock, hickory-dickory.
None that tell the time, though each one measures lasting
The fall and fall of ruptured moments, unfulfilled
Notice how the thoughts grow outwards until they run out of territory, suggesting man’s role in ascribing a meaning to time, leading the reader thereby to reconsider the title.
Also included in the collection are a number of nautical poems, inspired by Lough Derg and Hooker’s experience as a helmsman on RNLI lifeboats. Adhering strictly to the actual, these works do not suffer those without a knowledge of knots and seafaring jargon. I loved them—and not as one who knew exactly what was happening on the first read. Perhaps it’s the fact that they are spoken (or at least authored) by a woman very much in the thick of the action and braving its risks. But the focused cinematographic energy of poems like 'Old Harry' cannot be denied:
And the sea raged and heaped insult
after insult upon us. At the command to brace,
I locked the warp and brace—brace—braced,
the most offensive wave lifting me clear
and slamming me back on the deck.
Whether she’s describing a real life rescue or an alternate reality, Hooker has the artistry to anchor each image firmly in her reader’s mind and then to give it a good, star-exploding twist. As an emerging Irish poet, Eleanor Hooker may be destined to make serious waves. Brace yourselves!
©2014 Bridget Sprouls
'Through the Glass Mountain': a review by Bridget Sprouls