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.