Precious Mettle by Sarah Wallis – A Review


This collection opens with The World Stands Still To Weep, and I find this message such a fitting place to begin. Kudos to whomever it was that arranged the texts in Precious Mettle, be it Wallis herself or the editorial team at Alien Buddha Press. A job well done regardless. Given the experiences of all during the last couple of years, it is right that the world takes a moment to reflect. Only then can we evoke change, can we give agency to those who need it most.

The title of the collection infers that resilience (and by extension, reflection) will be key themes throughout. There is no more incisive example of this than the two-line dart that is Grandad’s Bullet, ‘The brass bullet that once went through his left arm in France/ pools its weight now, in my hand…’ Grandad has likely left us, what are we left with to consider? Wallis’ poet-speaker finds themselves looking back to look forward. This is a collection for all time, such is the skill of the writer. But above all, Precious Mettle is a collection for this time.

The theme of what has gone before continues throughout. Yes, we all bring our own experiences to bear when we read and encounter art; yes we imbue it with our own meaning. That said, it’s difficult to escape the idea that time has passed and things will not remain the same. Although regrettably, Wallis writes that ‘seventeen years pass’ and ‘we told/ ourselves things would get better, hurt less’. The hope is that life as we know it, as we feel about it right now, good or bad, is not static. That we can impact it one way or another.

As much as this theme is prominent, there is more to discuss. I’m particularly fond of the writer’s intelligent and creative use of language, that is both whimsical and deep. Moonstruck on an Upswing is testament to this. It is a standout poem in the collection, filled with positivity and replete with beauty, ‘maybe she flew/ but she was not made/ of catchable gossamer or dragonfly wings’. Again, the title is important, ‘on an Upswing’. Life is filled with peaks and troughs, but we have the capacity to maintain our own outlook. Seemingly, Wallis is writing that you can frame your experiences how you want, you do have autonomy. It is vital for us to take a moment to consider what is whirling about us, and our place in the world.

Finally, Wallis’ mysticism, her relationship with history, with nature, with lore is important. Mention of mermaids, of dragons, of kingdoms is never totally out of sight, adding depth. Admittedly, had this been handled any less skilfully this is the sort of subject matter that would serve as an immediate red flag to this reviewer. In truth, I can always appreciate craft, even when I am not keen on work. I am able to park this to one side in order to read critically and evaluate. But sometimes, I do not have to. Sometimes, a writer has the ability to take me with them, and beyond the limits I set for myself. Wallis achieves this through her development of characters, that I somehow care for as if I had devoured whole novels, rather than in such economical poems.

To conclude, this is a poetry collection that warms my heart. This is a collection that takes me down roads I might ordinarily have chosen to avoid. I’m left, reflecting now on some of the choices I have previously made, what have I shut myself away from? Some say that life is too short, Wallis disavows this idea. Precious Mettle shows, above all else that we must sometimes re-tread our steps and try new things.     

Precious Mettle is available to order now.

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