The Gloucestershire Poetry Society
£5.00/24 pages


Reviewed by Stella Backhouse


Andrea Mbarushimana’s new poetry pamphlet V20 – so titled because it won the 2019 Gloucester Poetry Society V20 competition – is a delicate Rosetta Stone, a key to unlocking the hieroglyphs of parallel narratives, and rendering them intelligible to we who live obliviously amongst them.

Many of these narratives are of the animal and bird world, translated and brought to life for city dwellers untuned to nature’s channels. ‘A Week in Goldfinches’ presents an alternative calendar, organised around the inscrutable antics of “low-rent inner-city puffins”, who flit from Mondays devoted to “tearing up the grass like bloody clowns” to Thursdays set aside for being “made up like YouTubers/sipping water from puddles after rain”. ‘Pigeons’, meanwhile, recasts an unloved species, frequently reviled as feathered vermin, as urban sublimities that “twist past cliffs of concrete…leaving a shimmer as they bank to sunlight…flashing on the turn”.


Interpretation of nature also brings personal meaning. In ‘Bat Hunting’ Mbarusimana turns on its head the guide’s patient description of “the slow unlocking of the language of bats” when a sudden encounter with a Serotine gifts an awkward new relationship a moment of bonding that for ever more will be a story “we retell…to each other/laughing at our youth”.


Once made, these intensely personal associations can endure for whole lifetimes, reappearing whenever conditions are right, transporting us via direct routes or ‘Holloways’ back to remembered experiences. In ‘Wren Song’, a girl playing on a swing hears a wren, and sings back to it. At the end of the poem “girl grows up/swing rusts down/ but every wren song since soars/skywards”.


Likewise, in an affecting series of three poems about Mbarushimana’s rocket scientist father, the boyhood experiments with ‘Moustronaut’ that got him started continue to vibrate throughout his life until he takes his “one last voyage into the unknown/Moustronaut flies again”. Against this poignant background, who can say what the future holds for ‘pigeot’, a species of bird known only to Mbarushimana’s eight-year-old daughter? On holiday she “names and classifies it in an instant/and all my frustrated probing gets/is fact upon fact/about the ‘pigeot’”.


Mbarushimana’s message, perhaps, is that nature is the ancient comfort blanket of our souls, woven from threads that lead us back to where we were barely aware of ourselves as conscious beings and language could mean whatever we fixed it to. And it still endures “wrapped around the edges of our city life/feathers threading through concrete/slivers of sunlight”. All we have to do is remember how to see it.


An e-book version of the V20 pamphlet is available for purchase here (£3.95).

Editor’s note: Andrea will be performing at HCE’s Fire & Dust poetry night on Wednesday 8th January.
Venue: The Big Comfy Bookshop, Fargo Village, Coventry, CV1 5ED. Doors open 7.30PM.
See Facebook for more details.