by Gillian Bickley
Proverse Hong Kong
Taking her readers on a journey from Hong Kong to Albania and beyond, Perceptions covers three decades of writing from British-born poet Gillian Bickley, who has lived here since the 1970s.
Bickley's fifth poetry collection does not deliver one single message. The book is divided into sections, each with poems loosely collected together under different themes. Stretching over years of her life, and spanning different continents, these include 'One Species' with poems about captured and caged animals (including lemurs and gibbons in Hong Kong's Botanical Gardens), and 'Passing On', which deals tenderly with the grief of losing a loved one.
The poems included in 'Issues and Intimacies' often touch on religious or spiritual searchings. In the longer poem, Added Value, Bickley strives to find meaning behind the desire to garner material wealth, pondering that advertising makes us 'covet cars, cookers, or clothes' for the promise of spiritual solace they provide. Such observations are worthy but somewhat trite.
More controversial is Papal Visit, written in May 2009 when the Pope visited Israel. Set during the Catholic sex abuse scandal, Bickley asks: 'Who wanted that large inset BBC face/wittering on about sex abuse'?; and as if that's not enough she goes on to state: 'We've all been abused some way or other./We must move on'. One hopes that not many readers have been sexually abused by priests and to suggest their sufferings are comparable belittles a scandal which, rightly, should have been exposed and received maximum coverage by the media.
Bickley is best when she observes rather than preaches. The poems grouped under the heading 'Staring' are far stronger. These shorter offerings - such as Don't Stare! in which she notices an imposing man in flowing robes in down-town Lagos, or Cross-culturally-clothed, three lines about a Japanese woman's style - pithily capture fleeting moments.
Perceptions is a mixed bunch and readers will have to root out the gems among the stones. Still, Bickley's collection is an interesting addition to home-grown literature.