The Boiling Point for Jam is Northern Ireland-based poet, Lynda Tavakoli’s debut collection. It covers a wide range of themes including war, personal loss, ageing, the natural world and Tavakoli’s connection to both Fermanagh and Tehran. The poems are both assured and characterised by a lightness of touch which often had me re-reading lines a second and third time as an image or metaphor slowly impacted with devastating effect.
The collection begins with a handful of poems which explore both her mother’s experience of dementia and her memories of her parents. The second poem in the collection, “Dead Dog” shows her mother distinctly unimpressed by a stuffed dog which has been brought in to the residential care unit to amuse the residents living with dementia,
‘That’s a dead dog,’ you say,
The words raged from that part of you
Still holding and holding on.
It’s shot through with dark humour and Tavakoli’s signature unswerving gaze. Small, deft touches such as the repetition of the line, how you love my coat/and how you love my coat, reveal her ability to not only capture snapshots of her mother’s life with dementia, but also place those moments under an analytical poet’s gaze. There’s both beauty and profundity to be found next to the deep sadness inherent within these poems. Lines like,
this posse of souls,
eyes-eternity filled already,
struck be as both deeply upsetting and also incredibly poignant. Tavakoli tackles her subject with a great deal of respect and a sense of shared humanity. The poems which deal explicitly with her mother’s dementia are interspersed and set beside poems exploring her memories of both her parents, so the reader gets a real sense of the fondness which exists between the poet and her mother and the deep connection they have. When, in “Is This What I Do” she writes,
I say your name, see the reluctant
wakening of your eyes, the disappointment
you had not slept your way to heaven.
You have told me this before.
there is no judgment of her mother’s despair, no sense that they are meeting as anything but equals. It is the way Tavakoli records her mother as suffering, but not diminished as a person, which really struck me as I read these poems. I found them incredibly moving and would gladly have read quite a few more.
The Boiling Point for Jam was published by Arlen House in 2020