One week after her fabulous launch at No Alibis bookstore, I’ve finally had time to sit down with a cup of coffee and my copy of Emma Must’s debut pamphlet, Notes on the Use of the Austrian Scythe. Over the years, (I counted it up and I reckon it’s been almost four now), I’ve heard Emma read many, many times. She is one of those poets who draws the air back into a room as soon as she steps up to the mic. Every time she reads her work it feels like the roof lifts a little.
Despite my recent efforts with Anne Carson, poetry remains a difficult art for me. Most poems are so condensed, so very wordy, on first hearing I can’t help focusing on the cadence, the way the words clash and flow, rather than what these words actually mean. Emma Must remains one of the very few poets whom I am able to appreciate without having first read their poems. Perhaps, this is because Emma is such an accomplished narrator. Perhaps it’s because she’s so very likeable, (great hair, great smile, great friend and wouldn’t I kill for that Radio 4 accent?) More likely it is because her poems walk that fine line between the infinite and the everyday accessible.
In Amygdala Must’s memory slides from a Moroccan holiday, to Silverstone, via a stint working on the Battenberg line at Mr Kipling’s to conclude with the rather heartbreaking admission, “I have no way of knowing yet/which parts of us I will recall/or when; what shape they will assume.” And I am just as captivated by the cake factory as I am with the way she approaches love and all those grander truths.
Before turning poet, Emma was a campaigner on environment and development issues, (I could tell you stories about her adventures as an activist, but i assure you they’d be much better heard straight from Emma herself, ideally with a large glass of white in the corner of Bar 12). In these poems there’s a real sense that the land has never left Emma and yet they’re not the kind of hedge and field poems which usually bore me to tears. There’s a little of the Wendell Berry in how she deftly weaves relationships and important incidents through her images of nature so people always seem to take precedent over plants. This is particularly apparent in the title poem, Notes on the Austrian Scythe, which begins, “You can no more lend a man your scythe/ than you can lend him your false teeth,/ so take my day instead, borrow this meadow.”
This is a beautiful first publication. I am extremely proud of Emma and glad that Templar chose to publish her pamphlet. It contains some of my all time favourite Emma Must poems, (the one about the Battenberg Cake, the cameo brooch one and that fantastic little poem about cheese). Please nip down to No Alibis and pick up a copy. Make sure you get Emma to sign it as I’ve no doubt this will be the first of many publications and someday a signed copy will be worth something substantial on Ebay.