I never used to get poetry. I mean, sure I liked some nice lines of beautiful words put together to form some clever or romantic idea. You know, like Keates. But when it came to anything more opaque, snarly or flighty, I would usually turn away in slightly dismissive unease. Until a good friend of more artistic persuasions divulged to me a secret of poetry. More specifically; haiku. She made it clear to me that poetry did not have to be beautiful or sensible all the time. Instead, I learned to see a poem as a picture, an empty canvas in a small frame. The real question you could ask yourself is: Did the poet succeed in painting a convincing, compelling image using words? Does it convey a sense of rhythm, of form? Did its imagery urge you to feel something, anything at all? If you think so, that is poetry.
Now, as I’m reading Susanna Roxman’s collection of poems Crossing The North Sea, I am struck by the truth in this. Turning over a number of unexpected subjects and objects in her caring hands, I’m struck by just how convincingly she portrays the very essence of things as intangible as the colour of lavender or turquoise. She animates the memory of winter days long gone with emotional poignancy. The shadows of people recognizable to her alone seem vaguely familiar even to the careless passer-by skipping along the pages. Moving from portraits of statues of sea kings and dreams of Lappic shamans through to descriptions of perfect happiness and old grief, I feel as if I’m seeing the range of sights and sounds Scotland has to offer through her eyes, steeped in her particular brand of nostalgia and quirky regret.
Her style is rhythmic, with words juxtaposed to rhyme surreptitiously, lending an almost musical quality to her poetry. Her human characters are timeless and fragile, and brought to life with as much care as she lends to inanimate concepts and things such as a leaf on the breeze, sometimes making the personal and the lifeless almost interchangeable. Through this, Roxman succeeds in pealing back the stark reality of everyday situations to reveal something extraordinary and fanciful.
Or the other way around.
With the selection presented in Crossing The North Sea, Susanna Roxman walks a fine line between highland hymns and urban soliloquies with vigour – safely crossing traditional romanticism with postmodern experimentality. The effect is something quite brisk and persuasive. Behind the lines, you’d think you can almost get a blurred sense of Roxman’s personality: desperate to be honest, intrepidly frail, never afraid to let something universal speak loudly through her own soft-spoken ruminations. Mournful, bright and always high-spirited, her poems are the perfect companion to autumnal afternoons, equally windswept and weathered. So if you can find this gem, count yourself lucky and read it. You won’t be disappointed.