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Review of Houses Without Walls by Susan Utting in The North

Review by Sally Baker, The North

Susan Utting, Houses Without Walls

Susan Utting’s Houses Without Walls celebrates the minutiae
of daily life, turning everyday objects into potent memories.
She writes about distance and relationships, bones, snow,
candles and bedsits. These are dignified and graceful poems
with plenty of domestic detail to create strong images, but
emotionally spare enough to allow us to feel, even when
surrounded by clutter. Her assured style comfortably tackles
past, present and future, ageing and dreams. There are images
linking the domestic with the romantic, and a hint of fairytale,
as in ‘My Mother’s House':

My mother’s wardrobe’s full of ball-gowns,
sandwiches and biscuit barrels full of instant coffee,
there’s granulated sugar in her dancing shoes…

‘My Mother’s House’ describes the increasing confusion in
an elderly woman’s mind through a series of surreal settings.
These poems are full of familiar and memorable objects -biscuit
barrels and wineglasses, handbags, slippers; but what resonates is
what goes on between people, the language of interaction. Even
with dramatic subject matter she maintains a sense of calm, as in
‘Noise, Delaunay’s Road’ where the title is notable by its absence:

and I am taking down fine wedding china, gold-rimmed
white, from off the shelves in the backroom wash-house,
unconverted scullery till the old cracked lino’s covered
with a beach of rocks and tiny gravel chips.

The poems towards the end of the book document a
relationship breakdown. A series of haikus carry messages
from a long-distance lover, providing the bridge to the
unsentimental ‘Go On To The End’ and the poignant ‘Marks
Left':

and the mark that was there
when I took off the ring I never took off, that I still
have ,that I don’t want;
that I can’t lose.

These are reflective, well-ordered poems with a freshness
of detail and an original, theatrical slant on life. They shine
torches into unlit rooms, onto past lives, picking out the
details of patterned carpets, worn armchairs, and the ghosts
who occupy the space.