Skies is Alison Brackenbury’s ninth Carcanet collection. In these poems, Brackenbury sustains delicate proximities between war and love, joy and sadness, summer and winter. Starting out as the first trees ‘chatter into leaf’, the poems cross through July’s ‘dripping amber’ to January’s ‘false thaw’. The seasonal shift is reflected in the poet’s larder, its variegating hues and tastes: honeycomb, parsnips, apples, broad beans, sprouts, jams and spices summon an air of harvest. But it is also the seasons of life that concern Brackenbury here: the poet’s irrecoverable past, her youth ‘which I can never visit, like a star’, is at the same time the thing that never stops revisiting: in an unexpected letter from an old lover, in a half-remembered playground song.
The poems in Skies are attuned to this musicality, to time’s echoes and refrains, the old errors that still ‘flower and flower’. Finally, it is the poet’s quiet conviction to savour life, to take seriously its succulent variety, that defines this collection: the poems attest to the special privileges of age: wisdom, self-sufficiency, a deepening patience with the world; the ability to be, as the poet says of an apple, ‘self-sweet’. The communal warmth of the kitchen finds its double in the exquisite loneliness of rising early, of hearing the barking of town foxes at dawn, or in the contemplation of a garden in autumn, its rows of hips swelled by rain, a rose ‘whose name I think means happiness’.