Review of ‘Sherry and Sparkly’ by Maureen Cullen & Patricia M. Osborne

Today something new again. This time I’m reviewing the latest in the Hedgehog Poetry Press series of poetry conversations, Sherry and Sparkly, (Hedgehog Poetry Press, 2021) between Patricia M. Osborne (who is no stranger to these pages) and Maureen Cullen.

This pamphlet constitutes a conversation between two poets reminiscing about and reflecting upon their common experiences, starting with their childhoods in the fifties and sixties. Unsurprisingly many of the poems focus on the impact of change upon them. In Osborne’s Isolated we see her recollecting the moment when as a young girl she had to cope with a change of school due to her family’s move away from Bolton. The environment is bewildering and alienating for her: she has no option but to ‘follow’, she ‘shuffle(s) round/ back and forth, late/ for class, past/ identical staircases/ toilets, cloakrooms, coats/ blue doors, yellow walls-‘, the syntax and rhythm perfectly conveying the strangeness and her confusion. Change is equally discomforting in Cullen’s Modernity which describes the working life of a bank clerk at the cusp of new working practices, when computerisation was about to establish itself and change forever the environment of the bank. There is something warm and comforting in the details that she provides: the safe’s shelves are ‘rich with crisp/ wads of aromatic notes’, ‘the scent of money as beguiling as the oils in the mahogany counters/ and cigar smoke from the gentlemen in pinstripe suits’. However, there are already signs that all this is about to change. Though she resists using the new computer, it is there and it has already displaced ‘two desks and three clerks, spoiling the effect/ of Panama tobacco, brass studded leather and dust.’ The things she loves about her place of work are already beginning to disappear and we share her sense of loss.

Cullen and Osborne show us how change in their lives was challenging but there are also times when it has been both benefical and fulfilling.  Osborne’s poems provide us with a different perspective on technological change, first in Cut and Paste, and later in Millennium. In the first poem, learning to word-process brings her and her computer-literate son close and there is a significant change in their roles as he teaches her how to ‘type keyboard jargon into the PC.’ Her second poem goes on to document the positive changes she has seen in her lifetime: central heating that made the ‘ice inside my bedroom window’ vanish; television that brought the delightfully scary thrills of ‘Dalek terror’, that allowed her to witness Neil Armstrong ‘bunny-hop/ on the moon’ and that transported her imaginatively to ‘Dallas’; and of course, there’s the convenience of the home phone and the mobile phone, the latter enabling her ‘to keep track of’ her children, when they answered! It is such change that enabled her to look forward to the future and to welcome ‘the arrival of the Millennium’. A similar thrill of the new is captured in Cullen’s poem, Charlotte in her Summer Dress. With ‘rationing relaxed’, and the opportunity to spread payments over the year, she acquires a new summer dress. Her excitement is conveyed through the loving description of the dress’ features and details: the ‘white cotton flare’, the ‘cinched in waist’, and the ‘two polo-mint buttons’. This moment seems to have a deeper impact, however, than mere excitement: the experience is transformative for her. It is liberating, she feels like a film star (‘eyes merry behind Sophia Loren glasses’) and we share her sense of freedom as she ‘birls, and birls and birls.’ The constraints of rationing have ended and a thrilling new phase in her life has begun.

The two poets have seen much change in the years that have passed, the one constancy in their lives is the love of siblings. Both Cullen and Osborne celebrate the warmth and comfort of such relationships. Cullen’s opening poem to the collection, Sister Song, describes two sisters playing on a ‘Wet Sunday afternoon’ and ends with an image of their unassailable  closeness: ‘Your fingers unfurl in my palm,/ rain plop-plops on puddles/ as I coorie down/ in our own wee hidey-hole/ and I promise I will forget-you-not’. In Osborne’s poem, Three in a Bed, despite the discomfort of the crowded bed, there is also a warmth and closeness between the three sisters captured in the third stanza when Osborne describes ‘the eldest’ singing ‘us to sleep/ with a lullaby, roses and whisper’. These poems mark the loving nature of such relationships and the place of them in their lives.

This time of the year is one when we are often minded to reflect up on what has gone before. I can think of no better way to spend a cold, winter afternoon than sitting with your feet up and sharing this heart-warming conversation between two accomplished poets, who are generously donating all funds raised by Sherry and Sparkly to Cancer Research. I will be.

Maureen Cullen is a poet and fiction writer. She has been shortlisted in various competitions, including The Fish Short Story Prize and the Bristol Short Story Prize. In 2016 she was published by Nine Arches Press, along with three other poets, in Primers 1. She has poetry published in a range of magazines, including Shooter and The Interpreter’s House.

Patricia M. Osborne is a published novelist, poet and short story writer. Her short stories and her poems have been published in various literary magazines and anthologies, and the final instalment of her House of Grace family saga trilogy was published in March 2021. Taxus Baccata and The Montefiore Bride (pamphlet) were published by Hedgehog Poetry Press in 2020. Click here to checkout her blog and to buy a copy of Sherry and Sparkly. All proceeds from copies bought directly from the poets will be donated to Cancer Research.

Next week Susan Darlington drops in to reflect upon her debut collection Traumatropic Heart.

Unmuted, the latest collection by Nigel Kent is available NOW for £7 + P&P (£1.90) UK only, for more details, including how to order, click here and message him using the contact form.

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