The Emma Press Anthology of Age

Oct 30, 2015 by

The Emma Press Anthology of Age

Title: The Emma Press Anthology of Age

Editor: Sarah Hesketh

Review by Jade Craddock

Independent publishing house Emma Press may only be a small publisher but their contribution to poetry is a big deal, not least their wonderfully eclectic and lovingly produced anthologies, which have so far covered motherhood, fatherhood, love and seduction, longing and belonging, female friendship, politics, dance, and slow things. Theirs is an exciting and refreshing endeavour. And in the latest collection, the attention turns to ageing.

It is something that we all have experience of, either directly or indirectly, yet it is also something that we too often ignore or dismiss, dwelling on it only when it has already come to pass. So The Emma Press Anthology of Age (edited by Sarah Hesketh) is a welcome, if stark, reminder of what it means to age, both for those experiencing it personally and the family around them.

The opening poem, Anja Konig’s indicatively titled ‘Nel Mezzo’, begins as it suggests in the middle – not with a speaker in old age but one somewhat younger, a warning that ageing is a process not confined to the elderly:

Of our generation some are lost

already (glioblastoma, suicide),

the rest of us are hanging on

There is, the poem suggests, no guarantee, no elixir of life, ageing is a given but old age is not. Old age is the destination, ageing the journey. Getting there is a battle, a game of chance. Some make it and some don’t, and as such, the implication is, old age is not so much a curse as an achievement.

In ‘Outside the Pub, Hurricane Bawbag,’ Russell Jones directly subverts the idea of old age as burden with the figure of an elderly man ‘muttering, struggling, but intent’, pushing his wheelchair to the top of a rise before he ‘shuffles into the seat/ and lets the wind take him.’ Age here is dismissed as nothing but a number and we can hear Mark Twain’s words echoing in the wind: ‘Wrinkles should merely indicate where smiles have been.’

Holding a stranger’s hand

Sarah Hesketh - Editor

Sarah Hesketh – Editor

It is the absence of those smiles though that really defines this collection, as the majority of poems tackle the more heart-breaking side of ageing and in particular the recurring theme of dementia. Both Bridget McKenzie in her poem ‘Kennings’ and Doireann Ni Ghriofa in ‘Holding a Stranger’s Hand’ exploit and utilise form to enact the presentation of the illness. Mckenzie’s displaced lines and elongated gaps render in typographical form the voids of memory loss, whilst Ghriofa’s application and alteration of the villanelle poignantly captures the circularity of thought. Robert Hamberger’s sonnets from a son to his mother perfectly express the desperation to connect, the agony at failing to do so and the bliss of momentary triumphs.

Ageing though has only ever one outcome and in Aileen Ballantyne’s ‘In the Garden’, we see the heart-breaking conclusion as two become one:

[I] hum every note alongside you

until only I

am singing.

The speaker’s song is now a very different one. Yet ironically even as the speaker goes on singing there is the sense of the passing of time, the continuation of the ageing process, ‘time’s wing’d chariot hurrying near.’

Poignant and wistful, The Emma Press Anthology of Age is as much a call to action as a recognition of the challenges ahead. Ageing cannot be outrun, it shows us, the only hope is that like Russell Jones’s septuagenarian we can ‘sport us while we may’.

By Jade Craddock

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