Conn’s 2016 debut book of poetry saw her employ somewhat of a scatter gun approach as she wrote with a polychromatic range of styles about a kaleidoscope of different themes. In “The Woman On The Other Side”, Conn wrote 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.
“The Woman On The Other Side” dealt 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. In “Sue Is De Vrouw On De Overkant?”, she wrote about learning Dutch and visiting the vowel heavy cities of Groningen, Maastricht and Utrecht. In “Dutch Bridges”, she articulated 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 articulated “how a fog can lead tourists, / like us, off course”.
Visual art beguiled Conn. In “Maria Annastraatje, Leeuwarden”, she was mesmerised by how “Vermeer’s viewpoint draws the eye”. The Dutch artist is referenced frequently throughout. In “Vermeer’s Nether Land”, Conn revealed how inspired she was by his art to go on and create art herself. Conn appreciated music too, elucidating her enjoyment of it in various poems here.
Conn mapped out some of her 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 surfaced more directly as she wrote about the Russian Bolshevik poet Marina Tsevtaeva on “The Metronome”.
Conn showed 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” gave 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 wrote poems that looked like essays on the page. “Blinking In The Dark” and “Inca Ice Maiden” being prime examples. Furthermore, “Absconders Beware”, was written like a text message.
Unquestionably, Conn was most convincing when she wrote 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 combined her twin loves of travel and family.
Conn observed the passing of time throughout. In “Abacus”, she wrote of, “June. Again. / There have been too many / birthdays and deathdays”. Direct and effective. In “Cutting Lemons”, Conn catapulted the reader into a vivid memory, “thinking of nothing but the chop / I am suddenly back in my grandmother’s flat”. In “Eclipse”, Conn philosophised about time passing by, making her well up as the “tears came quickly”. A similar event from her childhood was described in “Halley’s Comet” and the contrast between the two lunar events was 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 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.