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The Remedies by Katharine Towers review – a fanciful talking cure

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Towers’s beautiful second collection takes flower remedies and imagines how each plant would deal with the malady it was supposed to correct

How often is a poetry collection a collection? It is a rare thing for every poem to get on with its neighbours, but one of the pleasures of reading Katharine Towers’s beautiful poems is that they belong together. I kept thinking, as I read, of Shakespeare’s word for herbs and flowers: “simples”. These are simples, remedies for the eye and mind. And yet the opening poem, The Roses, is an unusual mixture of peace and violent emotion. The roses are the medium through which Towers remembers her father and conjures him for an impossible, unpruned moment, back to life. Later in the collection – the two poems placed like symmetrical windows – she imagines her mother alive, only to let her go and, in a sense, become her mother herself – part of what it is to mourn a parent.

This is Towers’s second collection (her first was longlisted for the Guardian’s first book award). And there is so much to praise about the writing: clarity, generosity and grace. There are no barriers between poem and reader. Individual verbs give a frisson of pleasure because they are exactly right: frost “enunciates” the day, an enormous cloud “lolled” against a hill, the sea is “rummaging” to find weaknesses in the cliff. She knows less is more. Reading between the lines is our fine task, listening to what is not quite spoken. And as a linguist (there are a couple of splendid poems about translation) she is interested in the limbo between languages, the teasing nature of the apparently inexpressible.

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