I saw Claire Crowther at a reading in late 2010, where she told the audience she'd created the term 'mollicle' pretty much because she could. Invention and the blurred line between truth and fiction form a large part of this collection, coupled with a mischievous, mythical feel that renders the whole a sort of linguistic golem.
Crowther gives us the loaded image of women as decoration, wary of the prospect of liberty.
'Mollicle' is used to refer to a daughter, and the title poem nods to stories of incubi and the fairytale of Rumplestiltskin ("'I'll take the baby / when it's born.' / The strange god landed / in my bed, / naked.") A spare yet anxious piece, the poem describes the threat of the god or demon's return, and sees first the female protagonist and then her daughter used as tools in its plan, the mother determined to cling to her girl until the girl herself leaves. A creation with a made-up name takes on a life of its own and abandons its maker. Betrayal or emancipation? It's left open.
The theme of female escape reppears in 'Captured Women', where "drawings / of women with their mouths tight / shut" ask "why hang here? Why don't we go?", in shifting and repeating variations. Crowther gives us the loaded image of women as decoration, wary of the prospect of liberty, but makes no prescription or judgement and deliberately leaves the question hanging.
Indeed, the author presents a range of female characters, moving through the trees as we read (literally, in the case of the final poem, 'A Wanderer in End Erring Wood'), including the mother and child of 'Mollicle', multiple 'Alices', tragic heroine Alcyone, Dickensian matriarch Clara Murdstone (eschewing the giveaway 'Copperfield' for the name determined by her second husband) and anonymous women, posed with their tools, adventuring or captured, even addressing herself directly in 'Self Portrait as Windscreen'. Characters are presented as individuals and we are invited to examine them not as a group, or as women, but as unique personalities, following different paths through a troubled thicket.
Nine Arches' presentation is lovely, as usual. The rough texture of the daffodil cover, earthy end papers and clean typography frame the work and summon the folk magic undertones of the poetry without drowning it. 'Cartoon: Oldfashioned High Street' works well as a centrefold, where the rich description of "pearl chokers and silk roses", as well as "clock-like darkening calm" is allowed the space of a comic strip, summoning the walk down the street in question.
Crowther's nimble use and adaptation of language, be it the nonce words borrowed from Carroll's 'Jabberwocky' in 'The Alices' or the puns in 'Self-Portrait as Windscreen' ("Do you think I'm clear on every issue...") that call to mind the wordplay of Simon Barraclough, is undermined in places by overexplanatory notes. Readers do not need, for example, to know that 'Clara Murdstone' is an imagined episode in the title character's life. Nor do they need to be told explicitly that a 'mollicle' is a daughter; if anything, the alchemy of this poetry lies in its suggestion and incantation, with the final reading a mollicle borne of both reader and author.