My debut collection, Out of the Darkness, published by Frosted Fire was launched in an online event by Cheltenham Poetry Festival on 14 May.
Testimonials on the books are below, followed by a brief selection of its poems. An order can be placed here.
An interview on Siren Radio with Steve Cawte, Editor of Impspired, about Out of the Darkness can be found here
Memory, and poetry, are proven to be powerful tools for healing in Clair Chilvers’s delicate yet powerful collection. In these luminous and transportative poems the author demonstrates how looking back, and reading/writing verse can enable us to transcend our limitations, escape some of our sorrows. Pandemic themed poems are peppered throughout, showing what has been lost, yet equally what we now treasure more deeply due to its scarcity – time with friends, country walks, small pleasures. In a series of linked poems, deceptively simple yet multi layered, Chilvers reveals much about the human condition and its capacity for joy and sorrow.
I’ve just put down my copy of your new book, for which very many
thanks. I haven’t read anything so satisfying for ages. Your work
has made terrific strides, and I’m hugely impressed – you may not
have enjoyed lockdown but it has certainly brought forth fruit.
I particularly enjoyed the way you broke up the poems with the
Pandemics – it gave you the opportunity to vary the subjects, with
the movement of your biography delicately hinted at along the way; so
that the darknesses are varied, and yet they belong.
Many congratulations on a fine achievement: I hope it will get
the praise it deserves.
Review of Out of the Darkness in Artemis Magazine by Dilys Wood.
Ten moving Pandemic (I-X) poems form the backbone of Clair Chilvers’ Out of the Darkness, no doubt resonating with many readers as she chronicles lockdown’s sad affront to tender family ties:
“I have seen him now on zoom/ in his new trainers […] / Twelve years back I greeted him/ He lay asleep on a pillow / wrapped in a fine white shawl / exhausted from being born. Pandemic Five: The Gift. The COVID poems epitomise the way that Chilvers anchors her work in mainly day-to-day personal experience. Writing in a restrained style, she offers a keen ‘noticing’ eye for human and other encounters that make life interesting. Perfect Pitch is a sensitive, finely honed, empathetic poem about what it’s like to be born with exceptional musical talent. Lunch is one of her poems in a setting abroad reporting the unexpected: a dour French farmer in “a battered deux-cheveux / fills my daughter’s hands / with wild strawberries.” Chilvers’ honest, accessible, marginally narrow approach is lifted by her intense level of involvement in daily existence, as she records yearnings, epiphanies, private prayers, opportunities for reassessment. This book consistently hints at a marked individuality and a capacity (perhaps not quite given its head) for conveying powerful emotion. In the enigmatic Pandemic IV: Bubble she laments a relationship that’s fallen victim to COVID: “we haven’t touched for weeks / avoid meeting in the street unexpectedly / in case we are too close.” Some adventurous experiences in her own life take the plot in new directions: “Flat calm, meteorite storm / crossing the shipping lanes / alone at the helm with sleeping boys”, Thirteen Memories of the Sea, IV; “She sank on her haunches expectantly / as we [….] scrubbed her back with coarse grass”, How to bathe an elephant; Skeleton Coast is a rare, and successful (wholly imaginative?) recreation of a shipwreck in a remote part of the ocean. The poem Black hints at a vision darker than she normally let’s us see (“all the year round dark mornings”) suggesting another dimension to this poet’s writing if she should decide to walk on the wild side.
Sometimes playful, often heart-wrenching, always captivating, Clair Chilvers’s collection consistently delivers a stark honesty in its explorations of life, love and memory. From childhood reminiscences and half-remembered travels to surreal worlds where angels ‘do whatever angels do on Saturday night’, these narratives bend and flex in joyously unexpected directions which persistently surprise. Chilvers has the enviable skill of seemingly capturing a poem in mid-movement and opening the window on some secret scene which, the reader feels, continues with a life of its own after the final line has been read.
Whether evoking ‘the smell of oregano and hot tarmac’, the tastes of ripe French goat’s cheese and artichokes, or the dance of aspen branches in the wind, Clair Chilvers’s Out of the Darkness speaks directly to the senses. In these precise and evocative poems, Chilvers reckons with the past and negotiates our uncertain present, holding melancholy and joy in a delicate balance. Wide-ranging in their concerns, the poems handle the fantastical and the quotidian with equal deftness. This is a thoughtful and deeply felt collection of poems by a writer with a strong sense of art’s ability to capture those moments ‘that must be communicated.’
As readers, we sometimes underestimate the value of less showy poetry and many of the poems in Out of the Darkness speak quietly. That is not to say the reader won’t be surprised. The understated reserve of the poems sharpens the focus and gives greater impact to the unexpected kick. In one poem, for example, a description of sea, sky and shore turns to ‘The wedding dress I should have bought / a column of cold grey chiffon’, while in another a deceptively simple description of knitting succeeds in creating a person who is ‘cast off neatly’.
Below are 5 poems from Out of the Darkness:
I was born, yet not born,
arrived on the doorstep on a dark night.
The angels put me down, blew a kiss,
and went off to do whatever angels do on Saturday night.
They found me in the morning of course
when they opened the kitchen door
to let the King in after his night out.
He hadn’t met the angels, different pubs I guess.
They didn’t know what to do with me
didn’t want to call the cops
in case they found the loot in the loft.
Decided to wait until they’d tidied up, moved it on.
That I could stay till then.
Of course that day never came.
It wouldn’t, would it?
Whatever was moved on was replaced.
So I grew up but I knew about the angels,
they came by once in a while
to check I was ok,
to check my wings hadn’t grown yet.
Brother Michael slips out after Lauds
white apron over thick brown habit
sings quietly as he crosses dewy grass
towards the wilderness
to a patch of wild garlic;
he takes a knife from his pocket, cuts a good bunch.
Just right, he says to himself.
The kitchen smells of fresh-baked loaves.
He crushes the garlic in a pestle,
with salt, black pepper,
works it into butter for the bread
while the soup heats through.
A perfect lunch for the Brothers.
The old Volkswagen turns through an open gate
into a grassy field.
In the shade a rug is spread,
ham, cheese and bread set out.
It is peaceful, drowsy, weather,
just right for an after-lunch siesta.
A battered deux-chevaux screams into the field
stops dead as if in outrage
at our trespassing.
A man in farmer’s overalls
slams the car door, opens the boot
gestures to us unsmiling
inside are tiny crottin cheeses,
we buy what we can,
with the few francs we have left.
From a white china bowl,
he fills my daughter’s hands
with wild strawberries.
I drive along the lane, not far from town,
to my house, where my lover will come,
one day, when he is ready.
The lane, unfamiliar,
I struggle a little to find the way
then come to houses
dark shadows set back.
In the middle of the road a badger
unmistakable in his grey striped coat
unhurried, crosses the lane,
pulls me up short from my reverie
of a future that hasn’t quite yet come.
Wet London pavements
reflect streetlamps at four o’clock.
The Solent lumpy,
leaden clouds brush the sea.
Yachts with reefed sails
hurry to Cowes, Southampton Water.
The shingle shore at Welcombe Mouth
pale pebbles marbled dirty white.
I pick one up for my collection.
The wedding dress I should have bought
a column of cold grey chiffon
more prescient than red velvet.
I fought for delivery slots
mastered Zoom calls
taught the television to livestream
fought depression every morning.
New routines – online shopping,
the virtual family get-together,
daily zigzag walk
hand-sanitiser in pocket, just in case.
Life a perfect bubble.
I fear proximity to people,
talking face to face,
negotiating shops and buses.
I look back at my bubble
hold it in my memory –
how I got to know my friends
shared recipes, boxed sets.
Today, I saw trees greening,
smelled the Queen Anne’s Lace.