I first heard Simone Mansell Broome read her poems at a poetry magazine launch in 2009. Hers were the poems that stood out for me that night because they spoke of real life events that I could identify with but they were also delivered with a healthy dose of humour, real warmth, empathy and a highly-perceptive understanding of human nature and all its foibles.
Simone’s first full-length poetry collection, Cardiff Bay Lunch, is no light and insubstantial buffet but a satisfying spread to feast upon and I guarantee there will be something from the extensive menu to suit everyone’s taste. It is an eclectic mix of poems covering subjects ranging from childhood illness to the death of a parent; compassion fatigue from constant demands for donations to offering temporary housing to a relative in need and family members returning home; everyday work and life in rural west Wales to holidays abroad; the joy of living with cats to how dementia sees tigers instead; the visit of a troublesome distant cousin to that of the Pope; an exuberant Hen Party weekend to a more sobering look at the dismal wedding breakfast of the title poem. They cover universal themes of love, loss, dejection, rejection, hope, doubt, guilt and joy in the context of relationships, home, family, community, Wales and the wider World.
Simone’s poetry is both immediate and accessible: almost deceptively simple at first sight, peel away the layers and it has real depth; it is observant and insightful, sometimes cuttingly so; it is often funny but with serious undercurrents and concerns; it looks at small events in everyday life yet manages to find the beauty or poetry in those moments, often at times when most of us would struggle to find anything remotely poetic. In doing so, Simone helps you see their importance: that ultimately everyone’s life is comprised of a series of small moments, some seemingly inconsequential, and larger events, such as illness or death, which all combine to make us the person we are and create the world we inhabit. Her poetry is often about the moments we overlook or dismiss or rush past but she clearly shows how it is those that often say more about us and our lives than we can imagine or give them credit for.
Some of the highlights of the collection for me were as follows: Simone traces her daughter’s days off school through the years in Under the Quilt with Rocky, mapping various stages of her daughter growing up through her changing taste in films. The poem ends on a wistful note when she realises that her daughter’s childhood is over; In For a Dead Princess Simone looks back at the dignified funeral arrangements she wanted to make for her mother, compared to how the funeral service itself played out with a wry look at how her best-laid plans were thwarted by the church organist. Despite this, she touchingly reveals how the music chosen, so butchered on the day, still brings tears to her eyes. The wedding breakfast in the title poem Cardiff Bay Lunch is heartbreaking in its bleakness and you fear for the bride’s prospects of future happiness surrounded by the ominous “sulk of black clad staff” and “a flushed pink-shirted groom telling a guest, / male, conspiratorial, how he had / your sister first.” Gorge Walk is a terrific example of a poem that shows how a walk in a gorge in Greece brings on not only the normal fear of falling and heights associated with the terrain but also more deep-rooted self-doubt and fears. Afterwards, as most of us do, this is forgotten or swept aside so that we can offer up the sanitised account of our day – “Oh yes, a good day… challenging: / you plan the postcard, draft the script – / all-in-all, good.” It offers up such a telling contrast between the workings of our inner minds and how we present ourselves to the rest of the world.
The descriptions and imagery in Simone’s poetry are vivid and immediate. In Against the Grain a lazy dog “drops his boredom like a spent match”; a woman’s fate, bartered over a market table in marriage, is likened to “spilt salt” in Last Chance in Narberth; in On Meeting My Cousin Simone remembers his “bright / button eyes, travelling light, / trailing the unexpected” of an antipodean cousin who brought a whole lot more baggage with him than first appeared; and in Notes from a Carmarthenshire Landlady, Simone recounts playing hostess to a hen party for the weekend “hens – some happy, some weepy / all well watered, are decanted into / your coop.”
Cardiff Bay Lunch is a wonderful, vibrant collection of range and insight from a gifted and talented poet. It is full of life and everything associated with it. Together with the energy, humour and vibrancy, you’ll also find those darker elements of death, disappointment, sadness and illness that cast their shadows over it. Because, after all, that’s what life itself is all about. I cannot recommend this collection highly enough. It’s one that I will keep going back to and re-reading.
Simone has very generously donated a signed copy of her collection, Cardiff Bay Lunch. Just leave a Pick Me comment below by midnight GMT on Sunday 14th November.
Cardiff Bay Lunch is published by Lapwing Publications, a poetry press based in Belfast. You can read a selection of the poems on Google Books, and the collection is available from amazon.co.uk (Cardiff Bay Lunch) and amazon.com.
Simone Mansell Broome was born in West Wales. She now lives on a Carmarthenshire farm, co-running a small centre for groups, workshops and courses – Ceridwen. Since 2006, Simone has been successful in written and spoken poetry competitions. She has been published in anthologies, magazines and represented Wales in BBC Radio 4’s poetry slam. Not exactly getting anywhere but… a pamphlet of her poetry was published in 2008 and was followed by a slim volume, Juice of the Lemon, in 2009. She’s a fervent believer in both page and stage and finds humour in the darkest moments. Cardiff Bay Lunch is her first full-length collection.