Covid-19 is reminding us in no uncertain terms that human lives are uncertain. In The Unmapped Woman (Nine Arches Press, 2020), which is Abegail Morley’s latest poetry collection, things have changed in ways the speakers can not have foreseen — they lose people, they don’t know how to go on, how to deal with memories. They are left with holes and absences. I’ve been mulling over Abegail’s ability to “do” Big Issues (birth, love, change, uncertainty, loss, death ) using the small scale of intimate relationships. Emotions are created for us — they are born and flow through the words she chooses: the unexpected imageries, the narrative arcs, the music of word-sounds and rhythms. Her technical skills are exemplary.
An example of how she combines the above to create feelings of wonder are the first lines of the first poem of the book. “Egg”
I breathe into the lonely snow-lines on the scan,
Tell you how to grow safely, how to throw
and catch a ball …
In “Gravid” she gives us an extended metaphor that I felt bodily:
… For one
unbridled moment she thinks she can run
through buckled nettles, the barbed thickets
gf brambles, straggle shoulder-high thistles
all the way down the lane and never
come back …
Abegail describes many, many kinds of loss and relationships. There is pain and grief and the unanswerable. In “The Library of Broken People”, there is a startling variety of injuries described. These “lost souls”, feel like damaged books to me. One of them says that “life’s an unworkable toy”. The speaker “survives amongst them, wear[s] a long jumper, drag[s] sleeves down wrists.”
The last poem “End” is sad– the loved one is gone forever, but offers solace in the details of what the two people had together and that some sort of healing will occur for the speaker. The memories are precious, but what happens next? Life is an inscrutable mix. ‘Going on’ is what we humans have been tasked.
Here’s the epigram that Abegail chose. My guess is that it explains a lot about her intentions for The Unmapped Woman:
Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world, which I find myself constantly walking around in the daytime, and falling in at night. — Edna St Vincent Millay.
And the beautiful front cover and title are both full of symbolism:
BTW The mention of the pandemic in the first sentence of my post is a bit of a red herring. None of the poems refer to it directly. But I was thinking how it is another example of a Big Issue and a universal one for us humans.