Reviews||

Letting Go by Angela Topping

19th Jun 2014

★★★★
Letting-Go-Angela-Topping
Angela Topping is a poet, a teacher, a mother, a daughter, and a granddaughter. Her latest collection of poetry deftly weaves those interlocking strands of her identity together into a neat, evocative rendering.

Although the majority of the poems within Letting Go have appeared elsewhere across her back catalogue, this new collection by Angela Topping is strong in its theme of childhood, daughterhood and parenthood, and of ‘talking’ across memories and family histories.

The collection’s epigraph from C. Day Lewis tells us ‘How selfhood begins with a walking away, / And love is proved in the letting go’ and Topping’s evocative, emotional poems explore identity through this prism.

That is, these are, in a word, identity poems, but not in the way that you might expect; these poems by Angela Topping argue and explore how you can find yourself through your relationships to others, and how that identity shifts and develops as you do.

Ultimately, these poems are searching for selfhood and in doing so discover its fluidity; this collection appears to conclude that true selfhood means accepting this fluidity, and learning to let go.

The later poems, for instance, explore what it means to be a mother, and indeed ‘The Mother’ stands out as a neat introduction to Topping’s message, telling us: ‘The child whose heart beats with mine / who shares my blood / is not for me.’

Reading Letting Go is something like looking through a treasure trove of family history, discovering lost letters and photographs of never-known relatives and in so doing understanding something more of who you are.The poem is a series of short sentences disrupted by line-breaks, a manifesto for motherhood as an act of letting go. It’s powerful and real and this real-ness is what stands out about this collection: Letting Go is a series of honest poems published with feeling by an independent, woman-run press.

This press, Mother’s Milk Books, is run by Dr. Teika Bellamy and aims to normalise breast-feeding through its publishing. As a counter to this de-normalising of one of the most natural functions of the maternal body, Topping’s depiction of breast-feeding is unfailingly normal.

In the Interval’ hints at social discomfort with the concept of breast-feeding as the speaker dreams she is feeding her daughter in a theatre: ‘Not a single person seems to mind / one small baby quietly sucking a breast, / […] In a dream nothing is astonishing’.

This final line is perfectly crafted in its matter-of-fact-ness; she is right – nothing is astonishing in a dream, and there is nothing astonishing about breastfeeding your child.

This honest, frank approach is what is most enjoyable about reading poetry by Angela Topping; she couples directness with emotion to produce something quite powerful in its own way.

In some ways, it’s as if – through her poetry – the reader stands at the window looking in on something deeply personal. What’s interesting, however, is that this personal history tale is also relevant to most women at some point in their lives, and that’s where the collection gains its power.

Reading Letting Go is something like looking through a treasure trove of family history, discovering lost letters and photographs of never-known relatives and in so doing understanding something more of who you are.