Susan Utting Susan Utting 


Review by D A Prince

Houses Without Walls
by Susan Utting

Susan Utting's fourth book is a collection of vibrant poems, alive with colour and movement. Its title comes from a traditional nursery rhyme, and Utting uses this to show that what really makes a house is the brilliant clarity of memory. Walls themselves may vanish as buildings decay but memory still holds the lovers, neighbours, noises, furnishings, colours, smells. City life presses on these poems, linking them, threading a personal history running from childhood through to the rented rooms and dance rhythms of adult life. They are packed with detail, giving substance to relationships that dissolve or break up, whether through the inevitability of ageing her mother) or separations (the lovers who inhabit the variously crowded rooms and damp basements). Noise, Great West Road catches the variety of London living

we were snug,
huggermug with West Indian weddings,
chiropractors and washing-line underwear
thieves; with paraffin stoves that caught fire,

– the lines driven on with supple rhymes and half-rhymes, and with lists capturing the crowded rhythms of lives where casual fights erupt at any time. Dance, especially Spanish dance, becomes a metaphor for the erotic: in Spanish for love a woman is overtaken by 'metal-tipped heel clicks, delicate toetaps', until she is 'castanetting loose change in her pocket', adding a mantilla, a scarlet shawl. In The Colour-blind artist, art and music meet – 'Sometimes, when he painted, he could hear red/ in a minor key, distinct from green's harmonic fifth' – another way of reaching into the intensity of life.

A brief biographical note tells us that Susan Utting is currently Creative Writing Fellow in the School of English and American Literature at the University of Reading. I bet she's good. These poems, packed with energy, are not only exhilarating to read but also a spur to writing: a generous collection from a full- blooded writer.

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