Review of Gill Learner’s The Agister’s Experiment in South

Keith Bennett reviews Gill Learner’s The Agister’s Experiment in South 44, October 2011.

The Agister’s Experiment – Gill Learner
Two Rivers Press £8.00

It ain’t poetry unless you learn something! This book will tell you something about the Women of Hunan province in More Than Words, “She mouths the comfort-sounds/ of the women-script her mother taught”; in a time when languages are disappearing this was a new fact I revelled in and the poem added so much more.

I had a slight problem with the poem Element 84, as I am sure you are all aware this is Polonium, named by the Curies who discovered it, for their country of birth which was under disputed ownership at the time. It probably was the cause of Marie’s death from leukaemia, but I believe it was not really linked to the atomic bombs as the poem suggests.

The poems that really worked for me in this collection were the family ones, Counted Out ending brilliantly, ‘and the cough that never frightened off/ the ten a day of Craven A until/ it all went quiet.” reflecting on a grandfather’s life that encompassed WW1.

And for the cat lovers out there, A matter of superstition, takes the experience of discovering that your cat is a killer and eats most of its kill, to weave a new myth about the cat’s normal prey, “This is a mouse not boiled of fried and/ mixed with jam as a cure for whooping cough,” Yeuk!

Learner crafts her poems, and perhaps some of them appear over-wrought through the workshop process, but her work reveals more in the re-reading and she understands the art too, as in Da Capo, where “Most words are lost but melodies bounce on between the ears/ insistent as the phone that rings but who’s to answer.” Who indeed?