The Verb To Be Is Everywhere Irregular

Anne Ashworth's new poetry book is reviewed by Stephen Mitchell, SoF steering committee member and a priest in the Church of England.

Anne Ashworth's contributions to the two SoFs (the Society of Friends and Sea of Faith) have been invaluable, and it is through these she has become known to us. She is first and foremost a poet, however, and it is in her poetry that her voice is clearest, deepest, most memorable and most thrilling.

It is fitting that her latest work is published by Sea of Faith, which gives a high priority to language as the means whereby we think, reflect, are conscious of the world around us, and conscious of our consciousness. The poem- sequence's quirky title promises playfulness in what Anne describes as ' a reflective poetic journal', a way of relating the events of a new year to 'faith, fear and fiction'. 'So that it wouldn't sprawl all over the place but have a shape', she writes in a five-line preface, '1 decided to put myself under an alphabetic discipline'. She begins:

I will ask the year to grant its words slowly
letter by letter as though
from ask to year held alphabetic hurdles,
rations of words with famines of dry silence,
a pilgrim plod from anomie to zeal.

But' A' immediately rejects anomie for alert, attention, action. ('What's actual, what's art, what's artifice? When we take action are we only acting?'). 'B' is to be, which bothered Hamlet. There's a 'recapitulation' after 'D':

Come back, A B C D...
A is for AIDS
B is for bomb
C is for cancer
D for disaster
Agony Brutality Catastrophe Death...

But things start looking up at 'E' for Easter:

Doomsters, pessimists, take account of this:
you can't eliminate enthusiasm.
Earth is excited, eager.
Eggs erupt...

And on through to 'YZ':

And this spun yam, this zany poem, acts
like a zoom lens on all those yesterdays,
a way of saying yes
to their conflicting yearnings.

This is no "pilgrim plod" but a pilgrim voyage of adventure, discovery and, above all, reflection on adventure and discovery. There are just 24 pages for the 26 letters and 12 months of the year. At 2 for the booklet, that's 8p per page! Go on, treat yourself!