The name Mersey comes from boundary: a water border, connecting and separating. Through a series of 17 ‘portraits’, poet and artist Maria Isakova Bennett connects us back to the place rivers hold, following the Mersey from Liverpool city centre to the Irish Sea. The poems are written with a fresh-paint aliveness. Like Alice Oswald’s Dart or The Wheel River Sequence you could almost stop and stand in them, walking along with each one, through their weather, tides, their times of day and viewpoints. The boat Maria sometimes works from is never at rest / wind from every direction so that, as she comes to know the river more intimately, she reaches the point where I lose all sense of me. The river’s characters and traffic feature sanderlings and lovers’ padlocks, tugboats, cargo and docks, as they interweave along the river and estuary to the open sea. Rooted in psychogeography, place and relationship these poems ‘paint’ observe and illuminate the permanence and maybe of life on and beside a river full of flow and stillness, solace, surprise and permanence; they return, again and again, to redraw a sense of place and self that, like the river, is ever-changing.
“The poems in ‘Painting the Mersey in 17 Canvasses’ are so exact and so finely crafted, that the reader can’t help but be drawn into the world behind the poem in all its beauty and changefulness and stark honesty. The numerous strengths and subtleties shine through again and again, binding the poems into a compelling and cohesive sequence.
There are recurrent allusions to doubt and uncertainty, which offset the spiritual elements beautifully – that ’necessary dance’ in the final poem balancing the ‘permanence and maybe’ of the first (what a stunning
phrase that is!) and ‘the distance where hope and faith exist and fail’. It’s such a strong, necessary sequence of poems and one which I’ve no doubt will become a part of the Mersey history, because this is not just an affirmation of love for that landscape, but an important historical