Hannah Sullivan’s Three Poems spans over persons, both literally and non-literally, and conditions (or circumstances). Where the first of the three poems is a poem in second person, the second is more of a person-independent narrative with the third one having touches of each — first, second and third persons, — however, more so addressed to someone. None of it is in any way some vile writing, i.e., which is only written; — what Hannah has captured on paper is spread in wide depth.
Much of this book is also contemplative, about a variety of matters, including female desire and consent; and as it is a hybrid work of poem-essays (in her own words), it also allows her to mull over certain uncertainties, making it an unusual debut collection.
To say, “You, Very Young in New York,” the first poem tends to shift between loosely rhyming short stanzas (couplets, majorly) and longer unrhymed ones; full of fragmentary images of city life: drinking in bars, sexual encounters, the fast pace of international business (“In Chennai, meanwhile, a man is waiting for your analysis, / Eating his breakfast of microwaved dal and mini-idlis”), the banality of hipster opinions and a lot more.
“Someone who has been abroad can never come home again: / London is home and it is foreign.”
“Repeat until Time,” then, though continues with the second-person narration, it carries a shifting image, and yet questions the notion of progress and what meaning a life leaves behind (as in, “3.31”: “What will survive of us?”)
The third poem in the collection, “The Sandpit after Rain,” is more personal and quite strong when it comes to it. The juxtaposition of the death of her father and the birth of her makes it more compelling. The phrase “children’s sandpit after rain” has been used around three* times , almost creating an impression of resurrection in the poem, considering the fact that a sandpit is expected to be cleaned by rain from time to time, in a similar way as a soul needs to be ‘in transit’ between bodies. Which is why, this poem, specifically, tends to deal with intrinsic matters, both literally and physically — the figure of her baby being born, everything bigger than normally is; and “The first I love you and the others.” — in this certain line alone, she explains a passing of ages. From infancy through youth and further.
“that there is no necessary season for things / and birth and death happen on adjacent wards, / that both are labour, halting and starting; / that women are always the middlemen / finding the coins …”
Also, in her debut collection, what steals the show at times is Hannah’s act of allusions made to varieties. There are so many details and images (“Even the air ambulance was still”) that a reader wouldn’t expect to see and then those suddenly turn up and there’s nothing to regret. — “I am become Shiva, death, the shatterer of worlds.”
“Because this is what death is: / Grant me the patience.”
So to say, on a final note, and in simpler words, this is a captivating collection of three long poems that tell stories in a kind of new modernist way, mixing the tiny detail of modern life with poetic images and references to the past. While these poems deal in numerous topics at once, the little details and idiosyncrasies/beauties of perspective (“Not always as interesting as the weather”) are some of their best parts, as well as a feeling of revitalising this style of poetry.
Three Poems, by Hannah Sullivan
* I counted only loosely.