A Boat Called Annalise

Lynne Hjelmgaard
Publication Date: 
Friday, February 26, 2016
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‘A Boat Called Annalise is a triumphant collection of poetry, marking a new embarkation for Hjelmgaard as a poet. It’s a collection which can be read time and time again, and will especially be appreciated by readers looking for new beginnings, those experiencing life’s traumas and working through the healing process called grief.– Wales Arts Review

‘This collection invites you to meet Lynne Hjelmgaard and share part of her journey. It’s a worthwhile trip.’ – Orbis


A Boat Called Annalise, Lynne Hjelmgaard’s new poetry collection, is wonderfully evocative of life on a sailboat: “Still, Annalise has that smell: slightly honeyed, rusty cans, soapy rags, brewed coffee, a whole cinnamon in a drawer”. The book recalls a journey this much-travelled author took on a sailboat to the Caribbean and back to Europe with her husband. In the first section, we are with the author as she gets her ‘sea legs’. The couple’s relationship is poised on tensions, beautifully observed, as masculine/ feminine, the need to assert and/or withdraw in the face of the turbulent seascape.

Life at sea contrasts with the tropical beauties of their dream-like destination. We breathe a sigh of relief, as the author does, when we catch sight of our destination on the horizon, ‘Through Binoculars I see a Turquoise Harbour’. We are then given life on the island and a number of insights into both the gorgeous vegetation and exotic insect “A stick that grew wings and flew away” and animal life and into the locals, as in ‘Island Gossip’. We also sense the author’s growing awareness of a tainted paradise: the lavish lives of Honeymooners and tourists side-by-side with the poverty of the native west-Indians.  

Inevitably, there is a retreat. The author sails back to other ‘mainlands’ in Europe and the USA and we learn that as life goes on in various cities, the husband also dies of an illness, leading the author-protagonist back to her recollections of their voyage to the islands and to some of the halcyon days of their marriage. The author reflects back on her life and we recall the epigraph to the book, a quote from The Odyssey: ‘You must take up your well-shaped oar and go on a journey until you come where there are men living who know nothing of the sea.’

In the final section of the book, the tone becomes movingly elegiac. There is indeed a return to the islands and further reflections on life there. “The tamarind have all but disappeared. /Trade winds occupy our house on the hill.” Other bereavements incite reflections on mortality and happiness. Hjelmgaard’s poems are beautifully poised, full of clear-eyed and frequently humorous observations. Her work is full of sentiment without being sentimental. Readers will enjoy their trip on A Boat Called Annalise.


Review by Dilys Wood, Artemis poetry

Friday, May 12, 2017

In Lynne Hjelmgaard's fascinating fourth poetry collection, A Boat Called Annalise, the death of her husband [that this is a personal recollection is confirmed in the back cover notes] is compared with a Marie Celeste scenario: "sextant on the table / pointers spread on the chart. / The cabin door open - / now still swinging back and forth / forth and back" (Navigation). This is appropriate because,  in Section I, the couple's one-time Atlantic crossing in the sail-boat Annalise inspires a compelling, and sometimes wry and amusing, straight account of the trip combined with emblematic significance. The voyage, described with all its discomforts, hazards and heightened experiences, is made an emblem of experiencing life, or, more specifically, marriage: "And there's no turning back; / nor can the bird blown offshore, / now clinging momentarily to our rail', Seamanship. Tensions within the marriage and the devastation caused by loss emerge more fully in the further three sections, which also include reflections on fissures between rich and poor nations and on the high-pressure financial job which seems to have contributed to her husband's death. This is serious, engaging poetry (also excitingly unpredictable) - drawing on different locations, Atlantic wilderness, Caribbean, Paris, Scandinavia, London, back to the tropics. Very diverse elements are held together by the theme of marriage and by the meaning of their sailboat for the married pair (never so significant than when they have little time to sail in her, "Your sounds and smells flow freely / between Annalise's planks. / They are different than they used to be", Directions). The more strongly lyrical poems here (including very moving poems addressed to friend and mentor, Dannie Abse) are perfectly poised between the expression of joy and fear. Some of the more political/analytical poems are coarser-textured, prosier, couched in a technically more limited style, but, even so, are evidence of a mentality that reaches out, that is very far from one-track. I think readers will enjoy losing themselves in this voyage. 

Review by Josephine Corcoran, Poetry Wales

Thursday, December 1, 2016

A Boat Called 'Annalise' by Lynne Hjelmgaard (Seren, 2016) is, as explained on its back cover, a recollection of a journey the poet took by sailboat with her husband, who died in 2006, across the Atlantic to the Caribbean and Europe. The opening poem 'Navigation' is in memory of Stig and addressed to him. Hjelmgaard depicts a pipe-smoking, straw hat-wearing sailor at home on a boat but, no sooner are we introduced to him, he's gone: 

'You left in a hurry

sextant on the table 

pointers spread on the chart'.

This is a poem about navigating loss and, because it opens the collection, all subsequent poems are imbued with the ache of bereavement. 

'Navigation', and a love poem 'A Bucket of Carrots', are the only poems which mention Stig. Elsewhere in this collection Hjelmgaard refers to 'my husband'. We're conscious, always, of the sense of journeying not only across seas but also within a marriage, to discover the raw meaning of a shared life. In 'That Feeling of Boat' the poet asks 

'Who are we looking for?

What did we leave behind?'

And, later in the same poem, 

'Is there sorrow here?

Will I become less afraid?'

The poems sail us with them in search of answers. As the voyage deepens, the relationship intensifies. The poet witnesses her husband completely at ease on the open sea. Images of him as an expert sailor, vitally alive as he navigates a storm, contrast poignantly with later descriptions of a suited businessman, drowning in meetings.

A Boat Called 'Annalise' is divided into four sections: 'That Feeling of Boat' describes the queasy beginning of the sea journey; 'On Shore' describes arriving at and spending time on an island in the Caribbean; 'Elsewhere' describes leaving the island, returning to life on land and Stig's death; 'A Brief Return to the Tropics' describes life afterwards. 

In the second section, 'On Shore', some of the poems touch on Hjelmgaard's assessment of life on the Caribbean island she and her husband have moored at (it is never named) versus images of an idyllic place sold to tourists. 'Island Gossip' hints at racial inequalities: 

'We heard white man gets the label still, white man

We heard the workers haven't gotten a raise in years. 

We heard the whites and blacks live together so far but you never know'. 

Hjelmgaard disassociates herself and her husband from white tourists who visit the island fleetingly. Certainly, you cannot envisage them behaving as foolishly as the tourists described by Jim, an islander who features in several poems in this section and who is described by the poet in one poem, 'Leaving Port', as 'our friend Jim'. 

'Sometimes, mon, they put their anchor down and forget to tie it on board. 

They can't get the engine started so they bang into other boats'.


Hjelmgaard doesn't have much regard for such tourists, as evidenced in the same poem:

"'Go for it honey', the girl honeymooner had said

as we snorkelled in Honeymoon Bay. 

She forgot to remove her jewellery or did I forget to tell her?"

Poems in this section highlight discrepancies on the island between holiday-makers and those who consider it home. Rather than distancing the poet from ephemeral tourists, these poems made me aware that she shares their privilege - perhaps this was always her intention. I was uncomfortable that in the poem 'Jim' the islander uses the term of address 'mon' in every sentence that quotes his speech. Ultimately, Jim remains on the island while the poet and her husband, like the tourists she disparages, wave goodbye and return to an international lifestyle, their sailboat being only one of their homes. It's impossible to imagine Jim ever having access to their world: 

'You think I work here all the time, mon?

Want to get away, get the hell away'.

For me, the heart of the book beats in the eleven poems that comprise the third section, 'Elsewhere'. The couple sail for Europe and leave their easygoing life on the island behind, the poet's husband for the final time. His face hardens, literally and metaphorically, as he heads into the turmoil of a wild sea and, beyond that, the stifling life of endless business travel and meetings. The title poem of the collection, also in this section, encapsulates the dichotomy of many modern relationships wherein youthful ideals and hopes are sacrificed in order to make a living.

The poems in this book rekindle memories, bring to life meticulously and painfully, an intense period of the couple's life together. In remembering her husband when he was most alive, the poet thinks of him now as, not dead, but in the place where he was most fulfilled and complete:

'Before death you saw Annalise 

From an unfathomable distance.

Wherever she is moored now, you are there'.





Review by Rhys Milsom, Wales Arts Review

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

A Boat Called Annalise is Lynne Hjelmgaard’s third, and most recent, collection of poetry. The first, Manhattan Sonnets, was published in 2003 and the second, The Ring, was published in 2011. What we’ve come to learn about Hjelmgaard through her work and poetic voice – through the first two collections – is that she has the ability and poise to alter the trajectory and composition of her work very smoothly and brilliantly without the work coming across as clumsy or, even, rushed. Take Manhattan Sonnets, for example. This was Hjelmgaard’s debut collection and was as poetic as the title suggests. Meter, rhyme, rhythm, verse and structure all played a vital part in the collection’s engine, leaving the reader with their foot firmly on the gas pedal until the end. We came to learn very quickly that Hjelmgaard was a poet of burgeoning magnitude, a poetic voice surreptitiously wrapped under a somewhat unassuming forefront.

Then, The Ring appeared in 2011. Throughout her second collection, Hjelmgaard embodied a young widow who was struggling to come to terms with her husband’s death. The widow would move from various European cities, attempting to make a new life for herself while her husband’s death nagged at her constantly. It was pure poetic noir. The entire collection is structured more like a book, with an entire sequence of poetry busting out of every page. What made this collection so bold and strong was that Hjelmgaard had actually lost her husband in 2006, and signified a new direction for her as both a poet and a person.  It was a brave decision to employ a protagonist very similar to herself. Very brave and very poignant. It was obvious that Hjelmgaard exorcised some demons and cleansed the sadness away with The Ring, giving the reader a startling account of what a recently-widowed woman goes through in order to move on.

A Boat Called Annalise is a much more profound work than Hjelmgaard’s previously mentioned. Taking inspiration from a journey she took by boat, across the Atlantic to the Caribbean and Europe, with her late husband, the collection is both visually stunning and extremely distressing at the same time. Cleverly, the collection is split into four sections: I – That Feeling of Boat (which describes the beginning of the journey), II – On Shore (unsurprisingly describes the couple landing on shore and the people/things they see), III – Elsewhere (details some aspects of the journey home and life back on land), XI – A Brief Return to the Tropics (where we feel Hjelmgaard’s intense loss of her husband and concentrated sense of the journey’s many metaphors).

Hjelmgaard’s style here is one of a conversation between her and us, the readers. There is nothing fluffy, nothing pretentious and everything is written with meaning and reason. There is a saying that goes something like, a bad experience is a good reason to write, and here we see that first-hand. We see a poet who has experienced her closest passing away, and she has used that experience to produce a mature, confident and alluring work which, arguably, is her strongest to date.

I – That Feeling of Boat, ends with the poem ‘Through Binoculars I See a Turquoise Harbour’. This poem includes two stanzas which perfectly encapsulate the freedom and passionate longing for tabula rasa which is patent in this section:

I know that smell of tangy-flavoured soil
and the mongoose mud path
straight up to the top hills, fresher and
higher than those with whining sheep
looking down on
sails and sand and coral heads.

Jumping out at me –
the more bluer than blue –
with white caps foaming
the whole way across
to Soper’s Hole.

II – On Shore, is an entertaining and visually compelling account of Hjelmgaard and her late husband’s time at shore, anchored to new beginnings and new sights. ‘Island Gossip’ is perhaps the strongest poem here, as it details all the rumours, half-truths and (maybe) truths that is encountered while Hjelmgaard is exploring the island they’re moored at. Instantly relatable to settling into a new neighbourhood, city or even country, the reader is allowed to fabricate images of the people we are told about, such as the workers who haven’t got a raise, the woman who committed suicide, the hermit or the man who is into wife-swapping.
However, it is ‘Leaving Port’ which remains with you for a long time after.  Longing, anxiety, motivation and even despair are summed up in the stanzas of:

She fills us with newness,
we give away our old

We need the music of wind and water,
the horizon our home.

One hand for strength, the other for light.

The crowning glory of the collection rests in III – Elsewhere, and, unsurprisingly, it’s the title poem. The third section can be read as a tribute to Hjelmgaard’s late husband and also can be read as a sign of life fusing back together and progressing, healing like a wound. ‘A Boat Called Annalise’ tells us all we need to know here, totalled in the first two stanzas:

Two people together for so long can be rekindled at sea
and it changes me – (if alone one would be searching for a mate,
if one had a mate one would be worrying about being alone).
He is my crimson thread.

I remember sky thickening and thinning
between gratifying moments
and wisps of purple cloud
going right through and down.

The collection ends of a note of completion, leaving the reader satisfied and entire, much like the collection itself. Wringed in metaphor, detail, meaning, and multi-layered, Hjelmgaard clandestinely compares life with her husband, and life alone, to the remnants and demise of the ship, Annalise.

In harbour, ships’ wakes and rolls
rocked us, sleepily secure,
water gurgled under her hull
like gentle, shaking bells.
We slept ‘til she opened our ears
to all natural sounds.

Our ship made music.
Our ship was music.

A Boat Called Annalise is a triumphant collection of poetry, marking a new embarkation for Hjelmgaard as a poet. It’s a collection which can be read time and time again, and will especially be appreciated by readers looking for new beginnings, those experiencing life’s traumas and working through the healing process called grief.

Review by David Troman, Orbis

Monday, August 1, 2016

The writer’s fourth collection combines contrast with intrigue, an approach
established right at the start with the cover illustration: on one side, a sailing
boat in the day time; on the other, an ethereal creature reaching for the stars.
Presented as a travelogue split into four sections, plus a postscript, the
structure raises similar expectations. The premise is a boat journey across the
Atlantic, made by a married couple. However, more than one journey is
documented here.
Sections I, ‘The Feeling of Boat’, and II, ‘On Shore’, provide a contrast in
content as well as style. The language of Section I is harsh, evoking struggle in
an unfamiliar environment. Once ‘On Shore’, though, both language and imagery
become safer, more familiar.
Here are Hjelmgaard’s feelings at the start of the voyage:

(the wretched lurching up and down)

This is a washing machine
I am turned inside out.

Set this against:

My husband can crawl on deck
while seas wash over him
take sails down
when they tear
repair the engine, the rigging, the head
and, at the same time, cook.

The husband here obviously seems to be the sailor. Again, in Section II, once
they have landed, he is plotting the course for the next leg of the journey while
she relaxes. This, of course, seems a sustained metaphor for their relationship.
In Section IV, ‘A Brief Return to the Tropics’, Hjelmgaard is alone. Although
no date is given, it suggests this is after her husband’s death in 2006. Here,
things to do with the sea remain familiar, but she is still more comfortable on
Section III, ‘Elsewhere’, I’ve left until last because for me, it’s the most
assured writing and the most intriguing to read, dealing with Hjelmgaard’s
personal relationships rather than her surroundings. We see her husband’s failing
health and the sorrow it causes, whilst also testing their relationship. The content
is telling:

the sea-lure remains.
Come home, I say

My hands can carry less and less.
I want you near
but you move further away.
[‘Nomad Song’]

By contrast, there is the peace of ‘White Clover’, with its dedication ‘For Dannie’
(Abse), a reflection on her relationship with the poet in the period between her
husband’s death and his.
The former’s name is mentioned only in two dedications. Whatever their
relationship became, her most poignant description comes in the final stanza
of the opening poem:

Put on your old blue jacket.
I’ll even let you stuff your pipe
if you promise to plot a course
to the exact position
of where you are.

This collection invites you to meet Lynne Hjelmgaard and share part of her
journey. It’s a worthwhile trip.

Review by D A Prince, London Grip

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

A twenty-ton boat, its journeys, the human relationship that kept it afloat: Lynne Hjelmgaard uses all this as the core for her third collection. It could equally take its title from the second poem, ‘That Feeling of Boat’, because this is what her poems give; they share the movement, smells, sounds, anxieties, space, joy of being at sea, and being responsible for your own direction, literally. Metaphors and reality combine. Hjelmgaard brings the specialist knowledge of an experienced sailor to her understanding of the varied rhythms demanded by her poetry. Reading her, I begin to appreciate what a sea-journey feels like.

‘That Feeling of Boat’ is also the title of the first of four named sections (the others are ‘On Shore’, ‘Elsewhere’, and ‘A Brief Return to the Tropics’). These seven poems establish the distinctive style and tone that hold the collection together – connection to the past, a sense of loss quietly told, free verse and an attention to the placing of each word; this is as precise as her attention to every movement and sound of the boat. Formal patterns would be constricting, out of place; in choosing free verse Hjelmgaard opens herself up to the constantly shifting interaction between Annalise and sea, weather, and the two people who work her –

The commotion of unpacking sails, snapping like Christmas crackers. The quiet reprieve when they are hoisted and we’ve passed the last buoy.

In short couplets, and occasional single lines, we are taken into the unsettled state of constant watchfulness required to manage the boat safely – There is a thick/ anxious kind of jittery. It’s a shared task, and in this poem the practical work falls to her husband, who struggles with the light and adjusts the jib sheet / cranks the winch tight, and tighter. Her role is learning to adapt to boat-life – Away from civilisation / we’ll keep becoming capable. The lines pitch and toss; only on a clear and windless day (‘Seamanship’ – the next poem) does anything settle into something approaching stability, and then the luxury of calm –

Connected to the universe, disconnected from the world.

Information about this journey emerges gradually as we piece together the details. Annalise is crossing the Atlantic, headed for the Caribbean, through high seas and the nausea of sea-sickness – This is a washing machine./ I am turned inside out (from ‘Novice’). A rogue sea, in ‘Night watch’ (written in three-line, short-lined, stanzas) points to the ever-present danger – We are tightrope dancers – / no net below.  Life on shore, the island, is all the richer for this contrast; it’s somewhere our darker selves can shed the tension.

Hjelmgaard’s two-line stanzas are equally effective in bringing the reader close to sensations of land –

Lushness and green, mule scent mongoose and wet mud, palms more pungent and savoury, the damp night:

She is alive to the contrasts between sea life and the shore, and how they are all changed. Annaliseretains her own smell –… slightly honeyed / rusty cans, soapy rags, brewed coffee, / whole cinnamon in a drawer. Island life, however, is not entirely an idyll. There is an undertow of menace and there are contrasts here, too: between the demands of tourists and the working lives of islanders, between the brightness of the waterfront and decay in the back streets. Stability is only for a moment; the norm is fragility and the technical demands of the boat – the engine, pump, rotting wood. ‘Leaving Port’ opens and closes with the same couplet – We need the music of wind and water,/ the horizon our home. It’s the only certainty, as delicate as the two short lines.

On the back cover of The Ring, Hjelmgaard’s previous collection (from Shearsman, in 2011) Dannie Abse writes of the ‘the synergy of related poems’, and that is certainly evident in the first half of this collection. Perhaps it is inevitable that the poems in ‘Elsewhere’ (the third section) will be less coherent than the earlier narrative, and less satisfying to the reader. While some of the personal tensions found in a relationship at close quarters are explored – the clash between her husband’s city life (…his mathematical energy; hard-driving/ industry, telecom, facts.) and her less defined, more flowing, indefinite – the statement Two people together for so long can be rekindled at sea (the first line of the poem ‘A Boat Called Annalise’) falls short of showing what has already been been established in the preceding poems. There is a sense here that Hjelmgaard is using some of these poems to explain herself to herself: the stanza shape becomes looser, the language less visual. Locations change from poem to poem – New York, Copenhagen, France and its rail network, London. Her husband had died in 2006 and the dislocations of loss suffuse this section. Only in the four poems of the final section (‘A Brief Return to the Tropics’) does she fully pick up the complexity of the relationship between two people and their boat, now contrasted with the loneliness of loss. ‘Connections’, opens with a description of a large yacht being rubbed down, reviving her memory –

As you and I had once rubbed our smaller Annalise’s hull – smooth to shine. (Methodically, in no hurry.)

– before a night on a friend’s yacht, despite the thrill inherent in its sense of distance travelled, leaves herdisconnected. It recalls her use of the same word in ‘Seamanship’, when being disconnected meant being together, and happy. The final poem, ‘Postscript: Because of the Beauty of the Ship Herself’ sums up what is best in the collection: the huge part that Annalise played in their lives, the overarching narrative of sea,travel and love.

Annalise peeled away layers of ourselves. Old meandering patterns shed like unwanted winter clothes.

Again, lives and the boat come together, but now Annalise takes on more grandeur: she becomes a ship, something that had sealed their lives together. In the poem’s final lines –

Our ship made music. Our ship was music.

– and here, again, is the fusion of metaphor and the real, so striking in the opening poems. Perhaps the restless rhythms of the land-based poems in the ‘Elsewhere’ section are a necessary prelude to this affirming elegy.

The riches in this collection make it worth seeking out, even if you know nothing of boats. Its rhythms – within and between the poems – will take you into understanding all natural sounds that are the music of sailing.

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