Sarah Howe has that poet’s ability to pick the right word on phrase to match what she wants to describe. She writes with a musicality and lyricism that leads you into the world of her poetry, and it is a world that you want to enter because it is beautiful.
As the title suggests, many of the poems are set in China, but many of them are not. The common theme that they have is us, being human. I particularly liked the poet, so enamoured of the peach blossom, that he forgets that he has not tied up his boat properly and ends up stranded. If ever there was a metaphor for life, and our plans and how they “gang aft a glee” then this is surely it. There is so much else here to like. The choice of words is always so apposite, the metaphors are enchantingly accurate.
The last poem says that “journeying is hard” and many of the poems are about journeys, whether they are journeys across the water to Macau or on the bus to Bethnal Green. Sarah Howe makes it clear, without labouring the point, that the real journey is life itself, and how getting from one place to the next can be fraught with difficulty.
It is also something to be enjoyed from the touch of an artist’s brush to the cicadas humming quietly but unseen, from the peach blossom hanging from the tree to the scaffolding surrounding St. Pancras’ “faery towers”.
It comes as no surprise to me that Sarah Howe won the T.S. Eliot Prize in 2015. These poems show exactly why that happened. Sarah Howe is special. Her poems are to be savoured and enjoyed.