Noir is a word with a freight of associations, but in the title poem of Charlotte Gann’s first full collection the protagonist enters what seems to be a cinema where ‘I only ever catch a moon-thin glimpse /of the projectionist’s face…’ This fits happily with the film noir atmosphere in many of these poems. The cinema (or what seems to be a cinema) is the place ‘where my life and the darkness meet’.
But what the ‘I’ of the poem is watching, or how she feels about the projectionist, or the liquidly tangible darkness with its ‘deep thick folds of milky black,’ is another matter.
Darkness leaks into the poems, a darkness impossible for the trained eye of the protagonist to miss, but perhaps unnoticed by others.
…I can’t not see
the cold dark water, can’t not feel its oil
seep through my boyfriend’s jumper.
(The Black Water)
An atmosphere of spy-like surveillance pervades these poems. People peer at each other’s apparently mundane lives and catch glimpses of darkness and impending catastrophe. In Tunnel, ‘She and I, two farmers’ wives’ are shown drinking ‘giant frosted lagers’ but soon we are in territory that reminds me of filmmaker David Lynch: ‘The darkness is real, she says, leaning towards me’.
When we are hunting for clues, we see this is a world where windows take on an unusual significance, offering portals into other realities, or presenting us with choices to be made.
Where are you getting your information?
My walls are papered with newspaper
cuttings–black and white on deep-red
plaster. Through one window I see
the red-brick houses I grew up in. Through
another, cliffs and sea and wild woodland.
Sometimes this choice is evaded, the world outside to be hidden from.
We’re at the small high window.
You stand. I kneel, rest my cheek
on the window sill.
You’re reaching for the letterbox
of blue, I’m ducking down low.
One of the cumulative effects of all this is that it begins to supercharge Gann’s images. We are in Gannland as soon as we notice that the woman sitting alone in a pub is wearing a black jumper. Something’s not right:
She sits alone, swaddled
in a boy’s black jumper
unravelling at the cuffs,
(The King’s Head)
Noir provokes all kinds of questions. There is an inherent seriousness to this work that I find thrilling. In the angst, the curious interplay of observed and observing, and the sense of near-palpable danger, there is a dark magnificence to these poems.