I was bird watching at Cley, in Norfolk, the other day (a lesser yellowlegs had caused a bit of a fuss among the local birders) and was walking back from the hides when this bloke said “ I hear you’re a poet” and proceeded to tell me about “this wonderful girl” (some folk still use the word) he’d heard reading recently. Joanna Guthrie. Hers is the most recent Rialto First Collection.
It would be difficult not to warm to a poet with such talents, particularly for the unexpected. The book’s opening line is ‘We rowed through star porridge”, and there’s plenty more – “birdsong stitches fat air like a blanket,” etc. This is writing that freshens up your vision, and refreshes your mind. And look out for the cheeky bits – in one poem, for example, she has ‘skid’ and ‘kids’ one above the other in succeeding lines.
Michael Tolkien, reviewing the book in Ambit writes of her “exceptional humanity” and says her “remarkable first collection cuts across accepted and expected boundaries and dimensions, directing us towards a physical world of overlooked riches.”
Like scraps of cloth cheap blink
As birds come whistling and flute and croon like
jazz, the caw of a voice cracks over the field.
It bounces across the ridges. Wind slides through:
a belly – gathers before and draws behind: a sweep.
Sweet, pineful breaths of living air
bare themselves and wait, into the season.
As birdsong stitches fat air like a blanket,
a bark break, and swallows whole itself, no more.
The sky spreads down, an open-mouthed heart,
to lead, and press its muscles on the leaves
which have such baby bones they do no bleeding.
And little legs and stalks walk around to feel it.
Joanna Guthrie was born in London in 1970 and grew up near Diss on the Norfolk-Suffolk border. After a decade living in the West Country, she’s currently based in Norwich. In between traveling and idling, she has done various jobs, including working with the homeless and in mental health. She was shortlisted in the Creative Non-Fiction category of New Writing Partnership’s ‘New Writing Ventures’ and is currently working on a political travelogue/memoir.
‘Joanna Guthrie is an astonishing new voice and we should cherish her gifts.’
‘There is a tenderness and depth and understanding in Guthrie’s work throughout, an understanding of those dark lanes and fat rivers that commands admiration.’
(The Rialto First Collection Series 2007)