The Emma Press Ltd
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Rachel Piercey’s Rivers Wanted is a collection of whimsical yet sharply relevant poems that simultaneously harness the essence of navigating life’s twists and turns and explore the spectrum of human emotion and experience. Through sometimes witty, sometimes serious but always wonderfully concise language, Piercey takes us on a journey through the mundanity, anxiety, discovery and sentimentality that inevitably accompany a life in this world. As Alan Bennett writes in The History Boys, the best moments in reading feel “as if a hand has come out and taken yours” and Rivers Wanted reaches out an exuberant hand to people of many different ages, nostalgically and beautifully capturing moments and feelings in a way that couldn’t fail to resonate and warmly grasp the fingers.
As a student, poems such as Ride and English lessons held particular significance, however my favourite poem, ‘With This Ring’, struck me with a sarcastic and unapologetic tone. The significance of this lies, however, in the way that it brimmed with poignancy and truth. There is the sense of a journey in the collection and yet moments of perfect stillness; ‘Picture This’, a concise 20 words of solitary peace, is extremely different in momentum to ‘Ride’, a 13-stanza metaphor for three different stages in growing up. It is exactly this contrast that makes the collection so truthful, mirroring human experience by never faltering in its variety, and balancing the nostalgia with unsettling undertones. The sense of freedom in the first stanza of ‘Ride’ – “Look, no stabilisers!” – is undermined by the “chain[ing]” of that freedom in part two and the bittersweet detachment of the older narrative voice, “They wrote saying you would be culled, / it made me think of badgers”. Similarly, in ‘Six Months’, the two brief stanzas oppose each other, the second knocking down the comfort and sentimentality of the first.
It is almost too easy in poetry to become lost in ‘grand’ or ‘deep’ ideas, ultimately coming off as self-indulgent and melodramatic; as a poet once advised me, ‘yoghurt’ is just as easy to type as ‘infinity’ (incidentally, I did then attempt a poignant poem about yoghurt in response). Rachel Piercey, however, rightly approaches the ‘big’ ideas through the lens of small moments or unusual perspectives, never attempting to encompass all the gravity of life with sweeping metaphorical assertions and therefore winning the reader’s respect and willingness to make the effort poetry requires to be properly appreciated.
Rivers Wanted is definitely something I will keep with me to re-read. If you’ve ever wondered how the feeling of something being just right can be perfectly described – what to do with a redundant wedding ring, why a candy pink bike is the safest bet, or how accurately reality can be encapsulated in a slice of the surreal – I’d definitely recommend this collection; it evokes the definite belief that, in Piercey’s words, “every day is an infinite text”.