2009, Bernini, Between Some Acts, Breaking the Ice, Event Horizon, Gormley, Olivia Cole, Ponte Sant'Angelo, Restricted View, Rome, Salt Publishing, Veneto
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Olivia Cole’s Restricted View explores, amongst other things, the pleasures and frustrations of perspective. ‘Breaking the Ice’, the first poem in the collection, suggests an awkward encounter, where the ice is slipped upon rather than broken, where the barrier between people remains. The collection opens with a quotation from Vile Bodies, inviting the reader to draw a parallel with the weary hedonism of Waugh’s Bright Young People, where Adam and his on/off fiancé Nina break up with the tersest dialogue in fiction. Cole’s internal rhymes hint at hidden agendas, at what has been left unsaid. Starting with this poem, audacious stanza divisions fracture sentences throughout the collection echoing the ‘stop start’ of the encounter.
The collection is not an emotionally cold one, however, and the next poem, ‘Between Some Acts,’ transports the reader to the Veneto, initially inviting us to consider the scene from the point of view of a statue of Victor Emmanuel. We are desensitised to these others in our public spaces, and it takes an arresting subversion of the rules of public sculpture like Gormley’s ‘Event Horizon’ (2007), gazing coldly from rooftops like snipers or extraterrestrials, to remind us that we are not alone. Cole sustains this theme throughout the collection, notably in ‘Ponte Sant’Angelo’, where copies of Bernini’s angels look down at us, jealous of their immured sisters’ Travertine purity, and projecting their insecurities and desires onto the public below. Cole’s tone characterises the angels, and the change in syntax suggests the dominatrix. ‘Get off the floor. I know it’s me/ out here, who makes you shiver.’
There’s humour throughout and, in the whimsical Frost inspired ‘Dress Not Taken’, the dress becomes a sublime conceit for the cyclic nature of life unrecognised in Frost’s original as, ‘Like all of the decades, they/ float back again’. This is delicious stuff, and Cole’s light touch ensures that her original air-blue gowns float in ‘the first fat polka dots of rain’.
Restricted View is accessible and unpretentious. Cole’s voice is engaging, skilled in ventriloquy. This languorous cosmopolitan collection would make a great summer read.