Review: Echolocation by Becky Cherriman

This pamphlet, beautifully produced by Mother’s Milk Books, is a delight. I read it in one sitting but will be going back to savour its imagery and crafting in the future. The first poem, ‘Eucharist’ is a hymn to a mother’s love. It neatly subverts the religious element which is so often controlled by men, into an intimate ceremony of women, a mother making porridge for her daughter on mornings she feels well enough to do so.

This poem strikes a note for the whole pamphlet – the reader can see immediately the poems will be about mothers who struggle, hard times in a mother’s journey, let downs and difficulties, but love will triumph when it can. ‘All Princes Were Monsters Once’ focuses on the painful stages of one’s child growing up and beginning to detach, how one looks back at happier times and feels the loss of them. The imagery is uncompromising:

… I am older or uglier than I thought,
twisted up like plaited bread or a corroded school gate

This gives the lie to deluded people who think domestic imagery is cosy – it is anything but. I also like the way Cherriman uses the sofa as a symbol of the relationship. A sofa is where one cuddles up to breastfeed, read and cuddle. Now the sofa is not big enough to hold both of them: the notion captures the boy’s growth but also the space he now requires to detach from the mother’s love.

There are poems of lost love, poems of illness, poems mourning the diagnosis of sterility: all hard things women have to cope with. ‘Lone Parent’ is a poem full of grit and bitterness, but still the mother keeps faith with her child and her dreams. ‘Castrametation’ is written in the voice of a man feeling inadequate as he watches his infertile wife dreaming of her non-existent child. I love the fairy-tale imagery here:

A century passes in which I slash
through thorns to kiss those lips.
But still I cannot rouse her.

One of the stand-out poems for me in this pamphlet is ‘The Foster Mother’s Blanket’. Apparently foster parents sleep with a blanket to give to the child when he or she moves on to a forever home, so that they have the familiar smell to comfort them when they leave. Cherriman makes it a symbol for memory and futures unknown, for love, for history shared and severed, and for promise.

‘Pamela’ is a story of a woman, not perfect, not always likeable, but who would not give her illegitimate baby up for adoption, that mother-love redeeming her faults. ‘In Bloom’, the closing poem which explores the story of Alice Scatcherd, was commissioned by Morley Literature Festival. Rightly placed at the end, it is a poem of consolation and hope.

The pamphlet is £5 from Mother’s Milk Books, or from Becky Cherriman herself. Five Leaves bookshop stock it also It is highly recommended. BC-Echolocation-front-cover-scaled


If anyone aspires to be published by Mother’s Milk Books, please note I am judging their pamphlet competition. Details here: http://www.mothersmilkbooks.com/index.php/pamphlet-prize

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9 Comments

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9 responses to “Review: Echolocation by Becky Cherriman

  1. It is a fantastic collection. My photograph is used for the front cover. I have your Letting Go collection and it is wonderful.

    • I think the cover is stunning. Also, so glad you enjoyed Letting Go.

      • Thank you, it was taken at Sandsend near Whitby. Letting go is wonderful, a particular poem that resonates is ‘Father, Gardening’ as it reminds me so much of my mum when she was in her garden and greenhouse growing tomatoes…oh, the wonderful smell of them! So much of your poetry resonates with me, actually. Have a great evening.

  2. We go to Whitby every year for Folk Week – I do poetry workshops for them. There is rarely time for me to walk down to Sandsend. It’s such a beautiful photo!
    I tend not to invent in my poetry, It’s all authentic and true, though edited carefully. I was very close to both my parents, who were in their 40s when I was born. I was in my twenties when they died, within two years of each other. Lots of my poetry is a one-sided dialogue with the dead.

    • I can feel your poetry’s authenticity and truth, that is why I like it so much. Nothing wrong with talking to the dead, I talk to my mum all the time. The loss of both your parents so young must have been very hard, your poetry about them is real and that makes it even more beautiful.

      I have heard the Whitby Folk Festival is great. Whitby is one of my favourite places in the world.

      • maria c heath

        Sandsend was the first seaside village that I went to as child, so I love the cover design. I really appreciate this review, thanks for posting. On the strength of it and my interest in the subject I will order the book.

    • Angela, I can relate to this as my parents werer of similar ages to yours, my father died when I was in my twenties, just beforre my son was born. Although my mother lived on until she was in her 80’s much the last 25 years of her life were spent away from me.

  3. Pingback: Saboteur Awards Nomination for ‘Echolocation’ and other project and Dragon’s Den style novel pitching – Becky Cherriman

  4. maria c heath

    I love Sandsend. This was the first seaside place I ever visited and it was a regular trip we went on from York. We liked walking on the cliffs nearby and playing on the sandy beach. Thank you for posting this review. There are some fascinating points made, especially about the idea about the deluded thinking behind the idea that domestic words inspire cosy imagery. I like the anecdote about the foster blanket and the familiar fragrance as a comforter. I intend to order the book on the strength of this review and also I love the cover design.

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