Reviews of Ash Tree
Ink, Sweat & Tears
Janni Howker's terrific review of Ash Tree was published in February 2013 on Ink, Sweat and Tears.
"It is a testament to Sue Millard’s exceptional skill as a poet that the poems in her collection "Ash Tree" have the tensile strength to contain the raw material of their contents. ... the formal dignity and control of Sue Millard’s craft are precisely what allows the reader to bear the unbearable with her.
“Missing”, with its unforced rhyme scheme and simple homely points of reference, is masterly.
"The delicate trotting rhythm and repetitions animate the finest poem in this collection, “Pink”, in which we witness Naomi’s funeral procession.
"The child though missed is never missing in these poems. That the poet’s attention is so utterly focused ensures the validity of the poet’s commitment.
"“I hold the brightness of you here,” she vows in “Putting away the toys” and this she most certainly does. Not since I read Douglas Dunn’s Whitbread award winning Elegies in 1985 have I been so moved. I cannot commend Ash Tree highly enough."
"A collection of poems in remembrance of Sue Millard’s beloved granddaughter Naomi, who died of cancer aged almost six, Ash Tree is a moving testament of grief, anger, pain and, astonishingly, joy and hope too. Never sentimental, the journey of the child and her family along the inexorable road of diagnosis, treatment, hope, despair and acceptance is chronicled with love alongside those aspects of everyday life which keep us going at such times – birds in the garden, a child drawing and the ash tree which becomes a metaphor for rebirth and renewal." Sue Allan in Cumbria Life, October 2013
"Ash Tree is both record and testament, a depiction of the grief and love surrounding the poet’s loss of her grand-daughter Naomi, just short of her sixth birthday and after a two-year illness.
"There have been various poetry collections about bereavements, notably Douglas Dunn’s Elegies, and, while readers will always be moved by the grief, so much is involved in the quality of the telling. I don’t mean "technique" exactly (for "technique" is such a cold word), more a quality of artistic tact and sensitivity, the ability of an author (and one which is wonderfully present here) to present the confused mass of events and emotions without falsity, succinctly and with feeling.
"Although the book’s 19 poems move broadly chronologically, we are conscious of endless fluctuation as the poet’s moods shift so hugely from despair to love to hope. The volume contains a few poems ('Search Bar', 'Ariadne' and 'Doses') whose content and images are stark: they are dominated by drugs and shadows and fear. They are harsh poems, close to being unpalatable, but they are an essential ballast, a base from which the poet and her poems can rise towards a genuinely cathartic achievement.
"There is also the powerful poem 'Godless', in which the voice of desperation exclaims, There is no god in heaven … I’ve torn the god idea / out of its smug blue sky. And then we learn of the poet’s one sustaining faith, in the call of blood, the bond of kin.
"Throughout the body of the book we read of the abiding and ultimately consoling presence of the natural world, which is ever there, both as counterpoint and complement. The poet wishes at one point that the mare she is riding might gallop Naomi away, to a swift and perfect death / to cheat the miserable length of dying. Fledgling swallows, tiny and vulnerable, can be picked up by the poet to shelter / the mystery / that should fly to Africa, and hope.
"The sudden relieving draught of nature caught me most strongly in two beautiful moments, first of all in 'Many waters', with a truly memorable closing stanza: Hush the goodbyes. I shall watch / while your river flows to the falls / and try to smile for you. Likewise, at the end of the penultimate poem, the poet, who has been dreaming of a rain which is now 'cloth-soft and without passion', says, When I woke, it had rained in truth – / sweetly cleansed all, / like a baptism.
"The collection’s dominant motif is that of the ash tree of the title and the title poem. The tree is rotten and must be cut down but at this point we have sadly to contrast the clean-cut mercy of the saw which awaits the tree, with the cruelty of Naomi’s treatment. But a healing note is heard in the final poem, 'Phoenix from the Ash', when we read of the tree’s roots dug in and her twigs stoutly bursting into life. Only then do we read of Naomi’s new brother soon to be climbing on the tree’s stump and the poet can now recall how / she danced up there, in purple and in pink.
"This is a fitting climax to a touching and beautiful book."
Robert Nisbet in London Grip, http://londongrip.co.uk/2013/09/poetry-review-autumn-2013-millard/ September 2013
Cumbria Magazine's December 2013 edition had a very nice long article about my books, and particularly Ash Tree: "Raw emotion at a life cut short--Kevin Hopkinson meets author Sue Millard whose book of poems was her way of dealing with personal family tragedy.
"...Prole, founded by two like-minded people, Phil Robertson and Brett Evans, who publish a print magazine containing 'high quality, accessible poetry', and whose book section have put out Ash Tree. They reckon, she says, that the 'good stories come from America and the good poetry from here.'
"Ash Tree - both powerful and poignant, anguished and eloquent in the telling - certainly backs up that assessment."
Kevin Hopkinson http://cumbriamagazine.co.uk/ December 2013
A grandmother mourns for her granddaughter. Just read this superb collection by Sue Millard @jackdawebooks from @Prolebooks. Crafted with the utmost skill and honesty, it told me that grief is, in its deepest essence, an appreciation of life. Mike Fox @polyscribe2 Jun 26, 2019
Open Mike session at Litcaff (Merienda, Treasury Court, Fisher Street, Carlisle, Cumbria CA3 8RF) on Weds 21st August 2013. Comments from the audience were very favourable; they really understood that the poems came, as Nick Pemberton put it, "from a raw place."
Radio Cumbria on Wednesday 28th August 2013, readings and conversation with Gordon Swindlehurst on his lunchtime show.
"Missing", one of the poems from Ash Tree, featured as part of Eden Arts' "Lost Tree" project at Brough Castle, Cumbria in August/September 2013. It was well worth a visit; thought provoking, plus a stunning setting and the sense of history in the stones.