by Becki Hawkes.
There is so much to relish in Carson Sandell’s work: these are poems rooted in both the natural and the supernatural, delicately sensual, designed to suck a reader in, bind them with sharp, vivid imagery—and put them firmly on edge.
I loved the opening to “Poltergeist”: the way its evocation of longing and romance—“I sense your honeysuckle heart”—turns to violence in the line that immediately follows: “is ripped like ghosts from graves”. It’s both beautiful, and deeply unsettling—as is the poem itself, which combines the direct, lover-like address of its speaker (“I, your desperate poltergeist”) and their intense desire for recognition with an effectively eerie final image (“…lips and fingers extract ectoplasm”). Even when reading in your own head, you instinctively read it in a hushed, desperate whisper.
“Crystal Carapace”, too, is a poem that comes alive when read (or whispered) aloud: the alliterative loveliness of the title —a phrase you just want to say again and again—is echoed by similarly satisfying lines throughout the poem, such as: “Fast forward to fall/And I’m fully flavoured”.
As with “Poltergeist”, however, it’s the horror and strangeness that ultimately stay with you, alongside the considerable beauty. The poem pulls us through the seasons, images of death and lost Paradise lurking underneath the fecundity—summer is a time to “sprout, but autumn sees apple flesh grow “Crisp enough for Adam/sweet enough for worms”. The final lines, in particular are just haunting:
As I’m immersed in ice
My craved contents rot
My sought-after blood
Blends in with pale dirt
And I linger as a crystal carapace
The poem made me think of the pictures of icy “ghost apples” I’ve seen online—but while the usual reaction is to these images is one of wonder and curiosity, Carson’s work reminds us that, while the natural is often heartbreakingly beautiful, it is never safe. These poems, so alluringly lovely on first read, bring us back to our own mortality, and our own irresistible desire to “linger”. Grim stuff— gorgeously done.