Review: The Whole & Rain-domed Universe by Colette Bryce

An unintended trip to the local library saw me plucking this from the shelves. I’m slowly making my way through the poetry section and every poet there I haven’t read yet. All of the credit must go to Wrexham Library who have an excellent selection of poetry, prose and non-fiction! *plays are lacking a smidge*

The unusual cover and the theme of rain brought me to this book – research for my own poetry in progress on Capel Celyn but more about that later. I’m extremely glad to pick this up; as with most books the blurb is often shrouded in mystery but this blurb says exactly what you’ll find inside.

Bryce presents a ‘personal reckoning’ of her life, family, environment and culture that is raw and cutting in places, putting Derry and the Troubles into a tangible poetic force for the reader. I’m particularly bowled over by her sense of place and space, highlighting the limitations and possibilities that are constantly at work between the writer and their origins.

I was captured from the first poem, White  a beautiful quilt of poetry to swiftly pick up the reader in the folds of childhood, something we can all relate to, the importance of our development at this delicate stage speaks through ‘the wordless place’, which is a fascinating image for poetry, that does in fact convey up with words to a wordless space of images, scents, sounds and memory. The book more or less continues in chronological order, and I was pulled by the anchoring placement of some poems. After being conveyed to childhood Bryce takes us to Derry, a place that I have never been and hardly heard of, but paints a picture with very familiar colours, such as ‘the sounds of crowds and smashing glass’, it is the way that Bryce layers these images that make us feel at home.
      We move quite quickly to the Troubles with The Analyst’s Couch and the ‘Blood… / like HP sauce’ – such familiar images to describe uunfamiliarevents envelops the reader into the time and place. Growing up in Wales I can pull elements from the text that reminds me of my own life, which is a sign of a very good poet, to involve the reader actively in the story telling, like in Don’t speak to the Brits, just pretend they don’t exist and ‘a wasp stings him on the tongue/ ‘Tongue’ is what they call the Irish language’, images and context such as this makes the poetry very isolating, internal reminders and quite painful times I can imagine, spun into words of silver.
     My absolute favourite poem of the book is one of the final ones, through quite a mature voice about a Mother A Simple Modern Hand, words taking the movement of writing and showing us that process. Crushing the hulk of words into dust that sings, the musicality in this poem with the ‘mama – mama – emem – emem’ dances from the page and moves the tongue in your mouth. The third section of this poem spells out the word Mother, forcing the reader to retrace their steps, like a reprieve in a song.
    The overall accomplishment of these poems is one tellingly very personal to the poet, the characters she involves, the family they may represent, the place becomes a person in it’s own right and guides the reader through the lives of it’s inhabitants. By the end you are welcomed in, to pick up a pint or a cup of tea and join in with the story telling.

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