Journey in Shades: Review of Mary Pargeter's Poetry

Journey in Shades is Mary Pargeter’s collection of short poems which tell the story of her life. Her words are both starkly honest and evocative enough to send the imagination wandering.

The power of Mary poetry lies in her choice to tell the truth, to not glamorise the events of life, and to criticise herself as well as others.

Structurally, the collection is divided into four sections, which represent a movement from childhood, to a loss of innocence, to pain-filled grief, to looking back and learning from mistakes. The poems are divided by section, but also by tone and language.

Childhood

This first set of poems is full to bursting with natural description, and feelings of wilderness with “the field of long grass for hiding and crawling” and the “beech tree roots” which “entwine above badger and rabbit hollows”. The overarching feeling of running freely through fields which permeates these

very early poems reflects the freedom of childhood, of being innocent and not yet understanding life’s pains.

'duntroom': poem by Mary Pargeter

Loss of this wholesome freedom starts to emerge in these childhood poems as the young girl is exposed to the difficulties her parents face. Her father has recently returned from four years in a Japanese prisoner of war camp, experiencing “his own personal hell”, which then violates the “gentility” of his wife, and the girl’s mother. In this same poem, entitled ‘near a girl’, the speaker also notes the hardships of her aunt, “war killing her lover, childbirth killing your mother”. This loss of innocence is clearest in the final poem of the section, where the girl asks “why are you crying my gentle mum” and her mother pleads, “not yet…her loss of innocence”.

Love

The next section follows the girl as she experiences her first loves, and, as time goes on, finds relationships difficult.

Love is, at first, passionate and spontaneous. In the first poem, the speaker is certain 'you are sharp and clear in my vision', and the majority of the piece is made up of listing her lover's features, 'your teeth whiter, your laugh louder', emphasising the strength of her emotions.

Even these initial poems hint at the sadness to come, however. After 'we fell into the grass laughing', the present voice interjects, 'like pale ghosts I see us now'.

The following poems convey how the speaker has had her heart broken, and broken hearts herself. 'You could leave', one of my personal favourites and only 5 lines long, states 'you could leave if you promised not a trace of you would remain but my mind is weak with your barren love and I should be destroyed'. This is a simple, logical truth, yet the words are beautiful and lasting.

As the section draws to a close, the tone becomes more pessimistic, and the language darker, speaking of 'hope to desolation and the cut of betrayal'. This provides a smooth transition into the next part, as the speaker deals with the grief of her life's traumas.

Death

Mary had to face grief at a young age, as both of her parents died when she was in her twenties. This section therefore deals with grieving for lost romance, and for lost family.

Words capture the raw sadness and unacceptance of loss. The speaker is trying to keep her loved ones alive through poetry, describing her ex-partner, Rob's, personality in such detail that it is as though he is there. This feeling is particularly present in 'at the wake' when the speaker cannot come to terms with death because there is still 'gin and tonic standing on the mantlepiece'. She feels like Rob will just walk back in any moment, and cannot accept his death just yet.

Photo credit: Lucy Skoulding

Reflection

Reflection is when the speaker accepts all of life's happenings, both the ups and downs, that have been depicted previously.

She begins bravely by admitting 'I have not always been kind' and revealing her own faults and mistakes. Lost love, she realises, is greatly down to her, 'you did not deserve my careless cruelty'. Instead of passion, heartbreak and anger, however, she now accepts her past, and maturely says, 'I hope you found love’, as if speaking to the lover that she hurt.

The speaker is more level-headed now. She smiles 'softly at young couples in love', looking back on this time in her life, and knowing that she no longer has this. It is not pessimistic though. She finds comfort from these memories. And anyway, Mary’s words could apply to both those who never married, like herself, and couples who have spent their lives together, and who’s love has changed from wild and passionate, to more comforting and companionship.

The collection ends in tranquillity. Mary returns to her childhood, ‘little feet neat in shoes and socks’, still mourning for the loss of her parents, but in a more peaceful way, ‘I visit my Mother’s grave, quite far, and pull at stray grasses’. She repeats that ‘I have not always been virtuous’, deciding now to ‘take [her] bruises and shaky faith back to church and search for peace’.

Mary’s poetry is her life. The truth of her whole existence is recorded beautifully on the pages of Journey in Shades. While her experience is unique, the themes she writes about are universal; a child’s loss of innocence, messy young love, losing loved ones, and accepting one’s own mistakes. Everyone can relate to her verses, and everyone can fall in love with her words.

Mary's poetry is available from www.gbpublishing.co.uk and from Amazon if you want to check it out.

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