A review of Where the Lost Things Go By Anne Casey

Reviewed by Magdalena Ball

Where the Lost Things Go
By Anne Cssey
Salmon Poetry
ISBN-13: 978-1910669907, Paperback: 96 pages, Jan 2018

Anne Casey’s debut collection, Where the Lost Things Go, is a delicate book. The work is meditative, and rich with compassion, sorrow, longing and care. The poems cover a lot of ground but pivot around grief, loss, displacement, and the various forms of love, from romantic love to the love between parent and child, to the kind of love we feel for our world and one another. The title poem opens the book, and is a lovely short piece which laments the passing of time, death, and loss:

we dived into the sky
and to the purple-hearted dark
an ocean we did cry
for all the lost things
gathered there

As the title suggests, much of the book is an ode to lost things, from the fifteen “In memoriam” poems that follow the title poem, to “Open letter” series, the“Metaphoric rise” set, the “Morning Rush” sequence, and the many poems that track all of the many people, spaces, and selves that we lose as we move through our lives. “In memoriam” is like a collection of lost things itself. Places like childhood homes, spaces that families once congregated, a home abandoned, and the people who were loved and are gone:

“Would you ever think of coming home?”
Her words would catch me
Lips poised at the edge
Of a steaming mug (“In memoriam II: The draper”)

These poems go a step beyond nostalgia, into a present-tense space where regret and sensual pleasure co-mingle. Casey reanimates missing people – the mothers and sisters (and other people) who are no longer with us, shops we once visited, old ways of doing things, scents and tastes of childhood, and the many mistakes and collusions, and transforms them into something permanent:

In my mind’s eye
The sun forever shining
Though I know it wasn’t always
Glinting off the soft inky crests
Turquoise melting into royal bue (“In memoriam XIII: Afloat”)

The “Open Letters” series is mostly unconditionally loving, lamenting a world that can’t be fixed, and apologising for not being able to fix it: “I hold myself accountable”. This theme continues with the poems that follow, where the child may be a younger self, or a growing child. There is always a tug and a transition at the heart of each poem. Though Casey’s focus is generally the domestic, and there are many beautiful poems about childhood, coming of age, being a mother, losing a mother, and growing older, there is a subtle underlying politics inherent in the work. A few of the poems are overtly political, incorporating irony and structure in ways that pack a serious punch. One example of this is “Metaphoric rise”, which tracks the 2016 US Presidential Election in a series of Haiku-like 3 line poems that follow a time progression through the process.  This series couples punned titles, rich imagery, and a very subtle examination of the process to create an arc that is chilling:

a fiery sunrise
heralds stormy days to come
Ice shifts at the poles (“Paradox Lost”)

As with all of Casey’s work, the critique is subtle but makes its point perfectly.  As with every poem in the collection there is an underlying press for compassion above cold efficiency or profitability:

Sifting and shifting and shrinking our thinking
Prescribing our liking
Mining, divining, refining
Terrabyting the spaces to nothing (“No-one will hear”)

Though the poetry maintains an easy softness, there’s a warrior-like focus on shedding light on brutality and callousness especially cold-heartedness over the personal, the caring, and the inclusive. The poems are decidedly feminist, and explore such topics as women’s right to autonomy over their own bodies (and the devastating consequences when that right is withheld), ecological destruction, techno-based isolation, and the callous, uncaring and selfish wherever it occurs:

the humus is humming
and I’m slumming with the
I have joined
the underground resistance

Where the Lost Things Go is a powerful book. The immediate accessibility of the poetry does not diminish the impact of the work, which moves through key moments in life, tracking grief, loss, ageing, parenting, and what it means to take a stance in a world where the need for compassion as a political gesture–deep-seated humanism–is greater than it has ever been. These are poems that bear regular re-reading, and in whose rhythms a human heart beats so strongly it’s impossible not to feel drawn in.