‘Poverty, suffering and small acts of bravery and resilience are all rendered in metaphors from classical mythology; but this is far from mock-heroic, and Smith successfully returns dignity to her subjects.’
Thistles of the Hesperides is set in the vast deprived council housing estate on the outskirts of Edinburgh, made famous by Irvine Welsh in ‘Trainspotting’, where Smith lived in the early eighties. Her poems do not shrink from the violence of unemployed Britain, but rather than a naturalistic approach, Smith employs Greek myths to give the poems structure. She weaves together strands of individual stories with an account of contemporary political idealism. Reality and mythology collide so that the everyday and the mundane are seen, recognised and unexpectedly transfigured. By exploring mythic exaggeration she manages to capture the sheer extremity of life on the estate.‘I admire/envy her ability to use myth so fruitfully…’‘Caroline Smith again surprises us with her candour and sparkling freshness…’
‘These poems are moving uplifting and resonant.’
Our garden had been raided in the night.
The banks of potatoes
that Rab had tended all summer
had been kicked in.
The dark channels of soil
between the neat rows of vegetables
were burst veins of colour and crushed shoots.
Limp-necked plants trailed the path
like purple fledglings twirled from their nests.
Beetroot and parsnips pulled from bloody gums.
All that summer
Rab had worked on the greenhouse.
Now the polythene sacks
he’d carefully tacked to wooden beading
flapped in shreds,
like the sails of the Greek ships
when Achilles stayed out of the fight.
And like Greek and Trojan armies
the whole street now waited for his revenge.
That summer in the garden,
these had become his familiars:
the changing colours of the rows,
kneeling and planting,
watching the hard tattoos
imprinted on the new soil
soften into a mass of green,
as if he had chosen
the other fate offered to Achilles:
the long life, protracted and uneventful.
Throughout the day
people stood in stairwell entrances
smoking and watching.
We’d known within an hour
who was responsible.
They were waiting for Rab to emerge.
It was evening before we saw him,
carrying a sack of potatoes
sagging in his arms
like the slaughtered body of Patroclus.
A brief tender moment on the estate
when instead of revenge
he gave them
to those who had stripped him.
Poll Tax BritainAt ten the doors open
and there is a mat of people stuck,
until one pulls through
and they pour in.
Two women have seized
the same pair of purple baby tights
stretched like gum between them.
A fur jacket is carried off
stiff and bent as cardboard;
the inside silk,
streaked pink and brown –
the smell of mildew moves
with the old woman
whose prize it is.
She leaves the hall,
and creaks away
out through the wet arcade
back across no man’s land,
the afterbirth of petticoats
hanging between her legs.