Conn’s 2016 debut book of poetry sees her employing somewhat of a scatter gun approach as she writes with a polychromatic range of styles about a kaleidoscope of different themes. In “The Woman on the Other Side”, Conn writes about travel, Art, the passing of time, family, Christmas and being a mother amongst a plethora of other motifs. Conn certainly has the gift of language and there are some sublime moments in this collection. However, I am left with the unescapable sense of there being more to come from this emerging talent. Conn has established herself as a poet and indicated her future promise.
“The Woman on the Other Side” deals largely with the sense of wonder that can be found in travelling to foreign countries, with Conn capturing that exuberant sense of soaking up the experience a new country has to offer. In “Sue is de Vrouw on de Overkant?”, she writes about learning Dutch and visiting the vowel heavy cities of Groningen, Maastricht and Utrecht. In “Dutch bridges”, she articulates the awe of a “simple thing” like taking shank’s mare, “across the canal to the market stalls”. This sense of getting deliberately lost in a different country is explored in “Wadlopen” when she articulates “how a fog can lead tourists, / like us, off course”.
Visual Art beguiles Conn. In “Maria Annastraatje, Leeuwarden”, she is mesmerised by how “Vermeer’s viewpoint draws the eye”. The Dutch artist is referenced frequently throughout. In “Vermeer’s Nether Land”, Conn reveals how inspired she is by his Art to go on and create Art herself. Conn clearly appreciates music too, elucidating her enjoyment of it in various poems in this collection.
Conn maps out some literary influences too, opaquely referencing Plath in “Blinking in the Dark”, “we were totally unaware of the instant we sent you ticking” is a nod to “Morning Song” by Plath. Her poems about motherhood are also similarly inspired by Plath. Elsewhere, her inspiration surfaces more directly as she writes about the Russian Bolshevik poet Marina Tsevtaeva on “The Metronome”.
Conn shows her creativity in “The Ds Have It” with an overuse of alliteration, “deltiology is best left / to holidaymakers.” I must admit I had to look up what deltiology is, what a fascinating pursuit!
The font and spacing of “Painting Light” give it a visual importance on the page. Conn very much considers how words look and not just how they sound. At times, this can come across as slightly gimmicky, if intriguing and experimental. Conn also writes poems that look like essays on the page. “Blinking in the Dark” and “Inca Ice Maiden” being prime examples. Furthermore, “Absconders beware”, is written like a text message.
Unquestionably, Conn is most convincing when she writes about the personal. “I hear their laughter from another room”, is the finest poem in this collection. Here, Conn tells us about a father’s interaction with his daughter, “rising in stature under her gaze. / His wine untouched / He will drink from her eyes”. The image is powerful and evocative. In “Canadian Christmas”, she combines her twin loves of travel and family.
Conn observes the passing of time throughout. In “Abacus”, she writes of, “June. Again. / There have been too many / birthdays and deathdays”. Direct and effective. In “Cutting lemons”, Conn catapults the reader into a strong memory, “thinking of nothing but the chop / I am suddenly back in my grandmother’s flat”. In “Eclipse”, Conn philosophises about time passing by, making her well up as the “tears came quickly”. A Similar event from her childhood is described in “Halley’s Comet” and the contrast between the two lunar events is notable.
Conn’s debut is a charming book of poetry with a vast array of different themes and writing styles on display. The use of so many varied approaches leads me to conclude that, in this collection, Conn has not completely found her own style. It is the collection of a budding young artist. There is more to come and I look forward to reading her next collection.