Books From The Pantry: The Cold Store by Elisabeth Sennitt Clough reviewed by Kev Milsom

How odd the imagination.
It often takes you close
To where the flowers grow,
Splendid and perfumed and failing
On their dehydrated stalks.
Then gives you an ashtray full of dogends.

‘Colitas’ by Elisabeth Sennit Clough

It’s fair to say that the talented poet Elisabeth Sennitt Clough has a passion for the easterly portion of England, known as ‘The Fens’ – or ‘Fenland’ –  covering much of the county of Norfolk, Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire, alongside parts of Suffolk and Huntingdonshire. Indeed, her 2019 publication, At, Or Above Sea Level, focused strongly upon this region of marshland, and former marshland, much of which originally consisted of fresh, or salt-water, wetlands. Now, in her recent book, The Cold Store, Elisabeth returns to this area with a collection of imaginative and personal poetry. 

The title of the collection – a real place called The Cold Store; an automated warehouse located at Wisbech, Cambridgeshire; once the largest frozen food warehouse in the UK, until superseded by another in 2018 – is used throughout the poetry as a metaphoric, shapeshifting presence. Elisabeth morphs The Cold Store into different forms across The Fens, allowing her to address memories from her youth, as well as buildings of importance, specific characters and various objects. 

In some ways, the poems remind the reader of the Fens’ landscape; as they can be edgy, dark and mysterious. Yet, the poetry also contains consummate measures of light, with abundant detail and creative imagination, played out via Elisabeth’s choice, adept vocabulary to immortalise the flat landscape and unhindered skies that hold so much personal meaning for her.

Here, beyond the old toll gate
Where the edge-of-town factories
And car showrooms have long faded,
Agriculture becomes the only industry.
Each square of land carries me into the next
And a pink horizon emerges from dark Earth.

‘Fenland Elegy’

The poems are varied and eclectic. While some focus upon descriptive elements to create powerful visual descriptions, others are clearly more personal, focusing upon an individualistic glimpse into the past, such as the poem, Widowed Single Mother, 1970s’, that I could strongly relate to.

After she drops me off at the school gates,
I try to mimic the villagers, call my mother
By the names they give her.

Elisabeth’s mastery of words plays through this entire collection and produces strong, creative visuals within the reader’s mind. 

You can find more of Elisabeth’s work here on Ink Pantry.

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