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Published by Lamplight Press, Lampshades & Glass Rivers is an expertly crafted sequence of 20 poems from prize-winning poet S. A. Leavesley, also known as Sarah James.

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Sarah has been published widely. Her debut collection, Into the Yell from Circaidy Gregory Press (also on my bookshelf), won third prize in the International Rubery Books Award in 2011 and her most recent collection, The Magnetic Diaries from Knives, Forks and Spoons Press, was highly commended in the Forward Prizes and has since been adapted for stage. Lampshades & Glass Rivers won the Overton Poetry Prize last year, established by the School of the Arts, English and Drama at Loughborough University where Lamplight Press is based.

Reminiscent of a delicate fairy tale, we meet a young woman called Ada and follow her through love, marriage and her attempts to conceive. There is so much to love in these dreamlike scenes, as they intricately weave Ada’s experiences with those of her grandmother forced to flee Poland during the war, quiet sufferings that hover at the edges as if to keep Ada’s company.

In the opening poem we find Ada and Dave ‘parting & meeting’, ‘meeting & parting’, ‘his dark-haired daring / laying laughter and daisies / in a ritual around her’, while she hears ‘a red-throated song / of sweet days’ long-limbed nights’. The piece is arrestingly placed on the page.

The next to catch my eye was a poem about glass, the third one in, containing the first hint at conception swiftly followed by one of the many stunning lines you’ll find in this chapbook:

Glass for pipettes, petri-dishes and test tubes.

Glass for their soft mouths sharpened by time.

References to Ada’s attempts to conceive continue, the absence of a baby increasing – ‘Red for the passage of blood, wet loss on her legs’, ‘On the hotel bed, / a naked woman lies childless, alone’, ‘…her fate might be re-reeded to birth / a Moses from her womb’s burst earth’ and then this heartbreaking image:

Dave dismantles the crib; the bars

lean at a low angle against the wall,

like failed hurdles.

There are several dominant themes in this collection – glass, fragility, rivers and loss juxtaposed with strength, endurance and woman as nature, with the lampshade battling light to prevent revelation. In one scene Ada is leaving a hotel, with ‘each room, the size of her mind’ and where ‘each guest’s wake / trembles in a sealess wave’ across the lobby’s lights, a dazzling description literally and then in another, she contemplates ‘that all water / is a form of strained cloud.’

I will leave you with one of my favourite extracts, a rich atmospheric snapshot from the halfway poem, in which Ada is revisiting her grandmother’s home where ‘memory stalls on how to say goodbye’:

Night is falling. Below the soon stark dark,

a vixen’s bark to her cubs. Roots burrow

upwards through the earth’s damp skin

 

into the skeletons of scarecrows,

shivering. In this cold: the spark

of beaded eyes, watching the light’s

 

walls crumble to a scattering

of unseen stones. These secret lives

visible only to those who know,

 

like the puddles of tumbled stars

that the days never notice

darting beneath their feet, then off,

 

disappearing to underground streams.

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