by John Eliot (Author), Anne Lamali (Illustrator)
Paperback: 50 pages
Publisher: Mosaïque Press (May 1, 2014)
As explained on the Amazon.com website, ‘Ssh is a collection of poems presented in a chapbook. The poems cover incidents in the poet’s life as well as his memories and thoughts that range from incidents during the First World War gleaned from family photos to the birth of his son. Born in Leicester, Eliot now lives in rural France with his family. ‘Ssh is his first collection of poetry. Anne Lamali contributes a number of illustrations in the chapbook.
With a title like ‘Ssh, this chapbook almost insists that you become quiet well before open its first page. Aware that he is a teacher of religion, the reader gets the impression that Eliot wants you to learn to appreciate life around you – take a moment and observe life. In time, you will learn what is important in life. Such is feeling one gets with Eliot’s poetry, as well. For example, in the poem The Mother, he writes:
how am I expected to watch
flesh become ash?
It is in the absence of words that the reader understands the anguish this woman feels.
There is poignancy in his description. For example, in The Widow III, Eliot writes:
The colour for a moment
Was only as God
As if the sun
Would never rise
When you read, (how is thirty years a long time but the memory a second?) from, For my son, Joe, on his thirtieth birthday you will both smile and wonder about the answer to his question. But smile is all you can do with this snippet of humour because the overriding feel of this chapbook is that the stories in the poems have to do with death. The morbidity of the subject matter is in the sadness and silent suffering the people Eliot writes about endure. For example, if you’ve watched your child die, the reality that his body will become nothing more than ashes will tug at you. That is not to say it’s bad. In fact, the words are deeply moving and there is clearly enormous compassion for such suffering.
Overall, the words that comes to mind when considering ‘Shh are ‘delicately restrained’. The feelings are neither repressed, nor are they strewn all over the place for all and sundry to analyse and criticise. In fact, you may find that as you read Eliot’s poems, you hold your breath – more often than not – and have to remember to breathe.
Review by Jacinta Rao
(19 June 2014)