Julia Webb reviews 'Vintage Sea' by Marion McCready

Vintage Sea by Marion McCready, Calderwood Press, 2011, £5

McCready has a strong and confident voice, especially so for a first collection. The poet hails from the island of Lewis and was brought up in Dunoon, Argyll, consequently her poems are imbued with landscape and way of life, with gentle overtones of magic and mythology.  The writing is three dimensional, visceral, synaesthetic – it brims over with concrete detail, colour and texture.  McCready has the uncanny ability to imbue even the most mundane, common place things with mystical properties, for example a pair of boots hanging from a wire in Boots:

I looked up to them,
like caught crows.
Their tongues
licking spindrift
easing in
from the North Sea.

Whereas poems such as I Carried my Sand Freckled Face weave a charm about the reader – they carry you along on the spell of their language.  

McCready favours short lines and short stanzas and this suits her subject matter. She allows each image the space to breathe and to develop itself in the readers mind, and whether intentionally or not one gets the sense of the space and remoteness of the Scottish coast from the layout and sparseness of the poems as well as from their content.

There are echoes of other writers here too – if not by intention or influence,then by similarity of subject matter. I couldn’t help but hear the voices of Jen Hadfield and  also that of Robin Robertson  (The Wrecking Light.)  That is not to say that McCready is in anyway an imitator; she has a fresh and unique voice and she has a far lighter touch than Robertson – the violent undercurrents underpinning her work are far more subtle. But still there is an underlying violence: a sense of things bursting forth (as the blossoms do in Cherry Blossoms or the Tulips in Black Tulips). This is nature turned mythical and extraordinary, there is an acute awareness of life-cycles, weather patterns and things coming to some kind of fruition or ending. And through it all there is a deep running smouldering sensuality, a delight in the beauty and unpredictability of nature and a sense of place and of rootedness.

McCready’s book is peopled with characters who have a symbiotic relationship with the elements (e.g. The Cockle Picker’s Wife, The Herring Girl). It is also full of meditative moments:

The pier lights glow like gas lamps
in the darkening twilight sky.
Silver railings slice the Firth

into manageable bites.
My pockets are packed with leaves.
Not a breath of air to breathe.

(Life Rafts)

Some of the poems here put me in mind of other poets who have brought alive the landscape, for example Alice Oswald. But Whereas Oswald’s work speaks very much in the voice of the south and west, McCready’s voice is a voice of the north.  Her poetry is infused with a very Scottish landscape and way of life. There is a darkness here, a loneliness, a sense of struggle against the elements and the human condition and beyond all this the collection is immersed and steeped in the tides and moods of the sea – you can almost feel the cold spray on your face as you read. McCready brings a heightened awareness to her subjects that make her poems a joy to read.

…reviewed by Julia Webb

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