Three reviews of Return by Minor Road

I’m grateful for the attention reviewers draw to collections, whatever they make of them. So often I find a book I want to read because someone has made me aware of it and interested in what the writer has to say.

During lockdown reviews have been scarcer as many arts and literature establishments abandon their offices and everyone works from home. It’s harder to get books physically to people, and many reviewers are on furlough, and/or overwhelmed with adapting to our changing circumstances.

So I’m very grateful for three recent reviews of my latest collection from Bloodaxe. Each reviewer has their own particular take on ‘Return by Minor Road’, and it’s really interesting to see how the work comes over to different readers.

In her blog ‘ Changing Pages‘, London-based Macmillan nurse Angie Vincent charts her reading, walks and investigations into quiet London, focussing on topics like ‘cultured calm’, ‘bibliotherapy’, ‘great escapes’ and ‘wellbeing’.

I was honoured to be included in a list of recommended reading in her post ‘The Calming Effects of Poetry During a Lockdown‘ in May, alongside some poetic heroines of mine, including Helen Dunmore, Mary Oliver and Maya Angelou.  In September she published a full review of the collection which was thoughtful and generous:

“There is a depth of feeling and lightness of touch to these poems which move me deeply… I am not sure how one could begin to make sense of the senselessness of this tragedy and its impact. However this collection goes along way to bringing some clarity and understanding with an ultimately loving acknowledgement of the enormity of grief loss and longing… These are important poems and deserve to be read, and re read again and again.”
You can read Angie’s full review here, along with the delicate photographs she has taken to accompany her review. 

In a round-up of recent poetry from Bloodaxe in respected online journal The High Window, reviewer Sheila Hamilton looks at my collection alongside new work from stellar poets Carolyn Forché,  Pascale Petit and Philip Gross. I admired her honest initial scepticism:

“What led me to this particular book was, largely, curiosity: how would Williamson approach something so difficult? In the wrong hands, such a series of poems could be excruciating. It could be mawkishly sentimental, especially as the event involved small children; it could come over as merely journalistic, a reporting of facts already well known; it could feel intrusive, exploitative, crassly ill-judged.”
These were all fears I experienced throughout the writing. Thankfully she concludes: ‘Williamson manages to avoid all these possible pitfalls.’ And goes on to say:
“There is a gentle touch in the words used, plain phrases, understatement and it is this, I think, which is part of the collection’s power and why it works so well…There are so many things to admire in this collection: the varied forms, the sensitivity to landscape, the first-person voice that is never intrusive or narcissistic. It is a brave book and I hope it reaches a wide readership.”
In the latest ‘Writing in Education‘ print journal from the National Association of Writers in Education, Luke Palmer responds to the collection with imagery that resonated strongly with me:

“According to the adage, you can’t step into the same river twice. But Heidi Williamson’s Return By Minor Road shows how some rivers, once entered, cannot be stepped from. Their waters blend with our bloodstream, changing the course of who we are.”

He  is eloquent about the silences and absences that inhabit the collection:

“Williamson’s exploration of where poetry must end, or where words cannot take us, is compassionate and sensitive, and it is this lyric touch which allows the reader to inhabit the feelings that rule this collection, rather than act the bystander… Through this collection of taught and starkly beautiful poems, we learn that, though a river’s course may be forever changed, it never ceases.”