where the road runs out by Gaia Holmes – Book Review

Nicole Melanson ~

Poet Gaia Holmes Book Cover - where the road runs out

From a poet named for the Mother Earth goddess comes this beautifully grounded collection by Gaia Holmes, where the road runs out. There’s a meditative quality to Holmes’s work which provides the perfect antidote to the frenzy of modern life. These are poems focused on individual moments, each one like a drawn-out breath.

This is largely a collection about loss and grief, but rather than resort to melodrama, it narrows in on specific and even mundane activities and gives them space in which to resonate eg.:

I hold a mirror

to your mouth

and your breath

makes no ghosts.  

There is a raw honesty to these poems, a conscientious avoidance of sentimentality that depicts the poet’s dying father as a spirited, even cantankerous soul instead of an aspiring saint.

Later poems speak of absence:

In bed at night

her husband’s hands

fall through her.

And:

and it seems you’ve turned into

the hollow witch levitating in the corner,

that lonely, awful thing

that they could have become.

What saves these poems from simply becoming an exercise in despair is a sense of agency that takes over after the poet’s “duties” are done. Holmes writes:

I am pouring rice onto a saucer

To make the sound of rain.

I am summoning a storm.

I was struck by the simplicity of this collection. The language is spare, and often reads like prose. I needed a dictionary in places (eg. “furze”) but each word choice felt earned, not flashy. Moreover, I found these poems quite atypically British in that they were almost entirely devoid of word play or other linguistic trickery, favoring a straightforward approach instead.

The aptly named where the road runs out is poetry that invites you to walk to the end of a path with the writer, each poem ending with a satisfying sense of inevitability. Read this collection when you want to slow the world down and reflect.

where the road runs out can be purchased from Comma Press here.