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Claire Orchard’s fascination with Charles Darwin is the foundation of her debut poetry collection, Cold Water Cure. This interest in his theory of evolution is one that attempts to grasp the concept of birth, death, and how it results in the humanity that we know now.
The poem ‘In the library with Darwin’s red notebook’ is central to the collection. It attempts to understand Darwin’s mind through his notebook; it ponders the curve of his handwriting and the small notes he’s jotted down. It portrays Darwin’s ambitious ideas not just for what they are, but also how he himself could’ve seen them as he tried to make sense of the world.
From this, Orchard tugs the reader along in her exploration, portraying different forms of life. In the poem ‘Voyages’, she describes the many different ways that journeys can be made, and starts with herself climbing up Makara Hill. Then she portrays a swarm of mosquitos, a small butterfly, a fox. With each different creature, Orchard describes a different moment in her own life, focusing on the movement of each stage.
I also loved Orchard’s experimentation with found poetry, both related to Darwin and unrelated. One of my favourites was ‘You played 2 hours to die like this?’, a collection of quotes from various video games. Some quotes I recognised while others were beyond me, resulting in a strange mix of the comedy and seriousness that is found in different plot points of video games, and different points of life. There were quotes that were simply absurd like ‘Wakka wakka wakka’, others more poignant like ‘Everything is teetering on the edge of everything’ and some simply blatant like ‘You have died of dysentery’. I found myself smiling at all the different levels of language that had been assembled together to create a poem.
Cold Water Cure is also a collection of a variety of poetry formats. Twelve voices over five courses is a poem assembled around the edges of the page in such a way that the reader can continuously read the poem round and round, forever getting lost in its ponderings on evolution. Rotated ninety degrees, the poem ‘Fully informed’ also becomes a diagram of reported sexual assaults, the length of each line representing the number of values on a bar graph. These creative touches made the collection so much more special.
Orchard’s poetry captures a variety of different moments in both human and animal life, and I found myself feeling sad for some characters that were desperately trying to find understanding and comfort in their lives. To me, the collection portrays the limited nature of humanity; perhaps we will never quite be able to understand everything. Darwin, indeed, tried to comprehend where we come from, and this collection further tries to understand humanity through his mind.
The last poem of Cold Water Cure is one on birth and it is a fitting end to a collection about existence and evolution. Orchard’s poetry collection may have an ending, but the ideas and questions will continue—this time in the reader’s own mind and beyond.
Reviewed by Emma Shi
Cold Water Cure
by Claire Orchard
Published by VUP