Drawing a Diagram: A Review
Drawing a Diagram, Rosemary Badcoe.
Kelsay Books 80pp; £10 ISBN 978-1945752391
Rosemary Badcoe’s debut collection, Drawing a Diagram, is meticulous and multifaceted, creatively engaging with intricate scientific concepts and theories from utterly original and thoroughly satisfying perspectives.
The first of three sections, ‘The Wiring Plan’ speaks to the essential, ultimately hidden, components of things. ‘On the Movements of Bodies’ is a sentient exploration of the difference between fact and truth, between plan and finished product. The facts tell us that the dodo is unviable as a creature, ‘how its sternum lacked the strength’ and ‘that gravity would…dislocate the stubby wings’. And yet, truth will out and life will find a way. ‘The Star Goat Reaches for the Earth’, is a playful and profound consideration of a constellation and its earthly namesake; demystifying the heavens and elevating the animal, it creates something both fantastical and homely as ‘His limbs of hydrogen and nebulae/ twitch to learn of trees and growth’.
The section finishes with ‘My Arguments’, skilfully highlighting the human disposition to compartmentalise troublesome truths. The speaker laments that their belief ‘for consciousness in cephalopods/ won’t prevent you from slicing and frying’, and petitions for recognition that ‘its preoccupations are yours’. Her protest resonates beautifully in the final lines, ‘I write you a note, and like squid/ use the ink to depart.’
Following from this, ‘The Director’s Cut’, is built upon the twinned ideas of revelation and change. ‘Please Hold’ speaks to the quagmire of inessential tasks we accept and perform with a ritualism bordering on the perverse. The poem reads not as the options on an automated system, but rather the reactions to those options; and just as stars are composed of disparate particles of matter, so the poem works two ostensibly disjointed concepts together to create a sublime celestial ending, ‘You’ve higher things to do than listen here./Go fulfil your destiny. Press star.’
Likewise, ‘Nocturne for Suburbia’ is an invocation to the reader to take their children ‘to the woods where the birch and the bilberry/ drift, half-aware, in the low-lying mist’, away from a restricted, controlled life where things happen, not like clockwork, but according to it; ‘You can hear last Tuesday, the way it bent/ Four o’clock back and forth till it snapped’. The observation is sharp, and sharply felt. The same may be said of ‘The Minoans’, in which we are told ‘We do not hand our fate to those we cannot touch.’ Our life is ours to claim and control, Badcoe reminds us: too often we are guilty of handing it to a higher power; too often we let someone else call the shots.
With this is mind, ‘The Last Act’ delivers poems that are raw and unapologetic. Where ‘Wake’, is unsentimental and unequivocal, informing the reader that ‘others spin the pattern built by cogs/ in their internal worlds and have no time for yours’, other poems in this final section are purposefully ambiguous. In ‘One Down’ a mental mis-step causes the speaker to see ‘from the corner/ of my sight… a tartan slipper droop from a foot’ that isn’t there. The poem is not about the absence itself, the nature of which is undetermined, but rather how the brain habituates to the point of fabrication in order to protect itself. The final poem, ‘The Last Act’ speaks to a sense of having missed out, the feeling that all great things have happened and passed the speaker by, as they wait for someone else to pass judgement. A resignation against the defiance of earlier years perhaps; perhaps the regret that we have not done enough, seen enough, understood enough, in our lifetime.
This is a collection to be read wrapped up in blankets and silence and time. With each poem standing up to robust analysis and dissection, be it crossways in sections or lengthways across the book, they invite and reward serious consideration.