Abbie Neale, Threadbare, Sheffield: Smith | Doorstop, 1 June 2020, 36pp.
Reviewed by Freya Jackson
Threadbare is an accomplished first pamphlet. When I first read this pamphlet I was very impressed by the use of imagery in these poems and Neale’s ability to pull together specific details, and thought Neale’s titling of the poems was excellent.
The two-act structure of the pamphlet works well, with movement from violence in the first section to healing and new love in the second section. The illustrations that accompany the title pages of each section add to the sense of journey across the pamphlet – the image in the first section a town that is overgrown, with dark windows and dead trees, while the second shows the same town healthy and thriving.
The mother/daughter relationship in the opening poem, The feeding, is complicated by the men literally between them, while the mother/daughter relationship in the final poem, Painting my mother, is strengthened by talking about a shared “type of pain”, through which the speaker realizes “how lucky I was to be loved by her”. However, despite focus of the opening and closing poems on mothers and daughters, other relationships in this pamphlet seem to be more important: sisterly relationships, romantic relationships (both negative and positive) and, most crucially, the relationship with the self.
“The two-act structure of the pamphlet works well, with movement from violence in the first section to healing and new love in the second section.”
The first section is marked by a disquiet which stems from acts of unspeakable sexual violence, the “it” which “penetrated everything”. The poems take a distanced perspective: watching from another room, “out of earshot”, or discovering something after the fact. It is only towards the end of the first section that they become more explicit about the moment “it” happens – In a parked car he drives brings the reader closer to this violence but maintains some distance by speaking in the third person . The first section, it must be said, is the superior section and has some of the best poems in the pamphlet (The Feeding, Can you draw him for us, Red, Buttermilk, The bed in Bea’s room).
The second section carefully introduces the themes of romance, hope and joy to the pamphlet. It has some wonderful poems – Reclaiming the word and The first time since the last time both stand out. In these poems Neale evokes a sense of sexual joy, a careful reawakening of sensuality, the warmth underneath these poems reaches out “like the sensory hairs of a butterfly”. Warmth characterizes this second section: where the opening section carefully and masterly lowers the reader into the cold and dark, the second section lifts the reader back – I am sure it is no accident that the outside space in this section becomes a place for this joy. It is such a pity that Neale occasionally overreaches with her images in this section, and in some places attempts to widen out the poems, but instead flattens them.
Overall, I would recommend Threadbare, it is a good first pamphlet from a poet who I am sure we will be hearing great things from.