I Am a Field by Rosemary McLeish

A review of the poetry collection I Am a Field by Rosemary McLeish.

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They say don’t judge a book by its cover, but the artwork on the cover of I Am a Field—an original painting by the poet herself—is so beautiful that one can’t help but positively discriminate against this book. Especially when considering its brilliant title—some titles just feel right, and this one (named after a metaphorical poem in the collection) certainly feels that way too. It makes you wish you had thought of it yourself. Indeed, great titles seem to be a theme in this poetry collection, ‘Philosophising in the Picos’ and ‘Blossom Trees Dreaming’ are just a couple.

Rosemary McLeish is a prolific writer who writes poems about a lot of different things. You get the sense that perhaps she could write poetry about anything. However, I Am a Field is a collection thematically linked throughout by nature, linking her themes with that of the Romantics. Within her work you can see her other interests bleed through. This collection was also inspired somewhat by the tradition of eclogues, which are pastoral poems.

In this collection, McLeish hits on a topical subject when writing about nature stating in the foreword to the book, stating she “cannot write about the beauty of the world […] without confronting the reality of its destruction.” With this, she is seemingly commenting on the current state of our environment as though we are watching it disappear.

McLeish, a refreshingly unapologetic feminist writer, reminds us that women’s rights and feminism are being undermined. Feminism is a strong theme in this collection due to the many ideas raised by the representation of women within its pages. The nature of women is explored within the natural environment, aligning the two. At multiple times throughout the collection, I noticed the book touch on attraction between females, seen in the poems ‘That Girl’ and ‘Chellow Dene.’

This collection is masterful, and the reader can tell that McLeish brings a lifetime of thoughts and experiences to it. It is prose-like but not prose poetry; the poems have meat on them, it is not pretentious or over emotional, yet nor does it lack in heart. Furthermore, it is not too sparse and not obviously wordy—it strikes the perfect balance.

In a landscape that is dominated by performance poetry, personality, and kitschy minimalism, I Am a Field proves that there is room for poetry outside of trends. It feels partly like a backlash against the norm, and although McLeish is hardly traditional in her ideas, she does bring technique and form to her work. McLeish and her work are always described as honest. In this collection, words and phrases are juxtaposed in such curious, unique ways, such as when she writes, “I was urine, I was rain.” This feeds into another feature of her writing; an acknowledgement and engagement with illness, ageing, decaying and accepting that nature (which includes these things too—connecting us) is bigger than us.

This is a collection that takes you all over the world, and for that it is well worth investing in. It is a colourful collection that’s even peppered with dry humour in places. It’s abundant in beautiful phrasing, such as when McLeish writes that, “The liquid night enfolded us.” The most beautiful couplet in the collection for me however was:

…and the blossom trees will be yesterday’s dream,
forgotten like party dresses on the beach.

Setareh Ebrahimi performs regularly, and is a poet working in Faversham, Kent. She is the author of In My Arms from Bad Betty Press.

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