Three Poems by Hannah Sullivan is the poet’s first collection of poetry and the winner of the 2018 T.S. Eliot Prize. Sullivan is a British academic and poet. She is the author of The Work of Revision, which won the Rose Mary Crawshay Prize and the University English Book Prize.
It is extremely refreshing to see the return of long poems: a detailed, flowing, narrative, that captures the reader and holds them in sort of a reading trance. Words and thoughts flowing through the reader’s mind and occasionally hitting even a higher-level awareness. The lines connect in complex images and emotions. The reader will realize that this is what poetry should be — full, rich, and rewarding. It is not the easy “poetry” of Instagram. This is for the mind.
Three Poems is exactly what the title describes. There is the innocent beginning in New York City followed by an adult period in California a period of repeating and patterns. The final poem cycles the reader back to a time that is the next step in life but also to create a new person to start the cycle again. Childbirth and death of a parent in this section complete the cycle of life, The acts are the same, but the people change. One cannot go back in time, but having a child is much the same as giving youth back, but not directly to yourself.
I can appreciate the New York City opening and life in an east coast big city. It is the city of immigrants beginning a new life, the beginning of style and music that others will soon follow. It is the excitement of youth — “He makes it for the girl in leathers with a face like the Virgin Mary.” and “Her fingers smelled of Camel Lights and lavender, and she is laughing.” In California, the setting changes — “Days may be where we live, but mornings are eternity. They wake us, and every day waking is absurdity; all the things you just did yesterday to do over again.” We become a cog in the system and will make cracks about the hipsters (who a few years ago would have been us). Finally, as a parent, we see our earlier life in the child’s future. We witness the circle. A decade and a half older than the poet I can easily relate to the scenes and settings of life that she experienced. Perhaps, that just goes to support the idea that we all travel the same cycle but at different times.