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Review of Enchantment by Julia Bird - Magma Issue 50

The Old Map Mutters and It Lies.


[...] Morley is a poet-advocate for a particular culture, but Enchantment takes delight in the immutable realities of folk culture: the world of nature and the ancient stories of Romany culture. Morley is an ecologist and naturalist, and he comes from a Romany family. This unique background allows him to fuse a delicate appreciation of nature with a sense of the immutable hardships of the folk who populate his poems. His use of form is decorous and subtle, often, like Shockley, using shape poems, though while Shockley’s forms are crafted to make political points, Morley’s reflect the materiality of patterns in nature or folk-art.

Enchantment begins with contemporary ramblers and dwellers, who express kinship and friendship through the shared joys or enchantments of nature. The narrator praises the ‘The Water Measurer’ (p.13), for example, who ‘tests and counts, counts and tests, in pinprick manoeuvres.’ These initial poems establish an unbreakable connection between human and natural worlds. ‘Proserpina’ (p. 21-22), uses the Roman myth of the fertile goddess who was kidnapped by Hades to consider a landfill, warning ‘It is true / what we waste bends back to grind us.’ (p. 21) Morley takes this thought a step further, however, imagining the landfill of human character:

if somebody takes against you
there’s no landfill can hide you or me, dig us, double-dig us
into cleansing soil.

The equating of human and natural eyesores asks questions about our attitudes both to the world and to ourselves, and it identifies physical or emotional landfill as a source of pain, guilt and shame.

Human suffering and human defiance are certainly significant in Enchantment, with many voices coming forward to tell their tales. ‘Hedgehurst’ (pp. 27-36) tells the story of a folkloric man-hedgehog who cannot fit completely into human or natural worlds; ‘Taken Away’ (pp. 37-38) describes infant loss through the legend of a fairy baby; while ‘The Circling Game’ (pp. 40-45) tells the tale of a man who tries to remake the Gypsy king’s daughter with a smithy’s tools. In poems like these, storytelling itself becomes a magical act, which enables solidarity and empathy. Morley’s speakers, however, are not always human. ‘The Lucy Poem’ (pp. 17-19) references William Wordworth’s ‘Lucy Poems’ and Morley’s epigraph to the book – ‘with rocks, and stones, and trees’ – quotes ‘A slumber did my spirit seal’, where Wordsworth imagines Lucy as an immortal slumberer joined with nature. Morley’s Lucy, however, is the skeleton of a great ape that walked upright like humans. Entering Lucy’s world of 3.2 million years ago, Morley imagines the cataclysmic changes which led to her kind’s extinction. Lucy’s perspective is uncannily human with its talk of ‘mother’s stories’ and ‘monkey-gods’. (p. 18) Such positioning suggests with foreboding that Lucy’s existence in a moment before environmental catastrophe is not so different to our own.

Enchantment
offers a great number of poems with a curiously authentic female perspective, complementing the more masculine books of the trilogy (Morley’s earlier collections Scientific Papers and The Invisible Kings). Particularly moving is ‘The Library beneath the Harp’ (pp. 49-56), based on the life of the Romany poet Bronislawa Wajs, nicknamed Papusza, or doll. Morley maps Papusza’s story in Poland through World War Two and the forced settlement of the Roma in 1950. The poem begins and ends with Papusza ostracized for her passion for reading and writing and, defiant to the end, she imagines how in death she will ‘approach the abyss with my husband’s harp’ (p. 56).
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