Counting Backwards: Poems 1975-2017
By Helen Dunmore
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Winner of the Costa Book of the Year for her final collection, Inside the Wave, Helen Dunmore was as spellbinding storyteller in her poetry and in her prose.
Her haunting narratives draw us into darkness, engaging our fears and hopes in poetry of rare luminosity, nowhere more so than in Inside the Wave, in its exploration of the borderline between the living and the dead – the underworld and the human living world – and the exquisitely intense being of both.
All her poetry casts a bright, revealing light on the living world, by land and sea, on love, longing and loss.
Counting Backwards is a retrospective covering ten collections written over four decades, bringing together all the poems she included in her earlier selection, Out of the Blue (2001), with all those from her three later collections, Glad of These Times (2007), The Malarkey (2012) and Inside the Wave (2017), along with a number of earlier poems.Tweet
Counting Backwards by Helen Dunmore
X) reviewed by Kathy L
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ A huge collection of such breadth and quality. One to cherish and keep by your favourite seat to dip in and out of as the fancy takes you. I’ve chosen to mention a few from each title. I think Dunmore’s final collection Inside the wave is my favourite precisely because it is so poignant.
INSIDE THE WAVE
Counting Backwards - heightened senses piercing a humorous haziness
The underworld - a beautiful poem about waiting for the end whilst musing on future possibilities, being reconciled with the likelihood they will never happen; still noticing and enjoying the minutiae of this peculiar limbo enough to inject gentle chicles of humour (the lazy sandwich).
My stem was cut - heart-breakingly beautiful and positive
The bare leg - such true observations of the mundane in our life. The final line “merely walking into the next room.” makes me want to find out about Dunmore and her beliefs.
My daughter as Penelope - the bitter-sweet awareness as a parent that our children are destined to be come their own independent persons - made all the more bitter-sweet in a collection of poems written with extreme awareness of one’s own mortality.
The Malarkey - I think we’ve all been there if you’re a parent.
Writ in Water - narrative poetry in prose about Joseph Severn with John Keats who was dying of TB in Italy
The Night Workers - an ode to ordinary people but no ordinary choice of words “watching the fog of pure neon weaken ...”
Visible and invisible - “you only have to let the airy cloak of years fall on your shoulders.” How true!
GLAD OF THESE TIMES
Crossing the field - so evocative of a country field at different times of the day yet this is more than imagery. “All are folded in the dark ...
All are folded into the dark ...”. This small difference, together with the ending and the Russian proverb invites us to pause and ponder further than the images.
Glad of these times - I couldn’t help feel that Dunlop was torn between gladness and sadness. Then I read Dolphins whistling and the phrase whistling in the dark came to mind.
OUT OF THE BLUE
Giraffes in Hull - would love to know the backstory to this poem
Smoke - a stark contrast to Glad of these times
I shouldn’t have been as surprised and unsettled by how dark I found the few poems in this collection, given the title, but I was.
RECOVERING A BODY
I found Dunmore’s Afterword very interesting. Perhaps it should be read as a Foreword.
The cuckoo - love that “we do. We do.” ending
The Butcher’s Daughter - opens as an old-time call and response song, with the ending as an unanswered response, making me think of The Shining
Just plain ran out of time, needing to share with other members of our group, so unable to add any favourites for these sections.
SHORT DAYS, LONG NIGHTS/THE RAW GARDEN/THE SEA SKATER/THE APPLE FALL