Review Of Alice Wore a Red Dress

Reviewed by Carol Thistlethwaite in Carillon magazine.

As soon as I read the first poem in this collection, I knew I was in the presence of an accomplished poet. Someone who is able to confront difficult issues, such as abuse, objectively. Someone able to instil powerful emotions without ever being sentimental. And that was only the opening poem…

Alice Wore a Red Dress is a collection that explores our emotional and mental wellbeing and has undercurrents of Christian spirituality and the comfort it brings. A theme of light also connects the poems: sometimes it’s the kindly light of love but often it’s the floodlight of criticism. Readers are pulled into a difficult mother-daughter relationship, the burden of being a carer – the raw honesty of it all is well controlled by metaphor and by approaching subjects side-on. There’s a redeeming quality of lessons learned as we watch the now-mother wrestle with her irritation to create a positive relationship with her own offspring.

There are startling images such as “Mr Wright’s polyanthus/ are the brutal dark red of used Tampax” and “I heaved and was delivered/ of nine pounds of hot nakedness strung out like sausages/ a living female infant”. There are moments of dark humour – “spaghetti bollocknaise”, an account of preparing a meal with steer testicles the poet’s father brought home to be eaten, and exquisite similes such as “Alice is as vulnerable as the pastry flaps Bill slips/ into the lit gold heat of killing oil”.

Anyone interested in strong women’s writing or mental health will savour this book, anyone who expects poetry to show something and show it well will also be impressed. It came as no surprise that some of these poems have been prize winners or published in respected magazines – they deserve to be. I have no hesitation about recommending this collection, especially to women.