Bestselling feminist poet Arch Hades’ second volume of collection, Fool’s Gold: Poetry and Postcards cements her reputation as one of Britain’s favourite poets.
By Sarah Greenwood
As the late Irish poet Seamus Heaney once said: “I can’t think of a case where poems changed the world, but what they do is change people’s understanding of what goes on in the world.”
And I can’t help but feel that bestselling poet Arch Hades would agree.
At the young age of 28, Hades is on top of her game — and the poetry in her latest volume, Fool’s Gold: Poetry and Postcards — will help a generation of women explore how they think about love.
First up, it is worth saying that this is an astonishingly good collection, covering the same themes of love and loss as within her bestselling 2018 debut, High Tide, with her signature style and literary aplomb.
Her work is known for being contemporary yet is classical in its form and artistic inspiration, and this new volume of 53 poems moves her writing on to new heights.
Chiefly, it focuses on a real-life dysfunctional relationship, exploring it throughout its journey from the first flushes of love to the dark realisation that the relationship is toxic, its eventual breakdown and the poet’s ultimate healing.
As an example, take a section from one of her first poems, called ‘Anticipation’.
Night after night my mind orbits
Around you, my sun, my star
Anticipation, blazing like a comet
Confined to watch you from afar
In another, Eyes Like Clear Honey, Hades lays bare her devastating love for this man.
It’s meaningless, I’ve only lived for you
My open heart for you to take and do,
Whatever begs your will, love or subdue
Till you decide, in ache, I wait for you
But, as we move through the poems, that first promise of love vanishes, to be replaced by growing, and fully justified, dissatisfaction, expressing the rising awareness of toxicity in her relationship, as in ‘Dorian Gray’.
You play games, you try to deceive
Your own dangerous lies you believe
We follow Hades as she realises the relationship is one-sided, draining, and that the root cause is to be in a partner who is narcissistic.
And I believe this honesty is why the book is so compelling.
We – the readers – are on the poet’s side as she tries to make sense of her relationship, evaluating all the little nagging things that, together, make for an open and shut case against the unworthy beloved.
We are there with her, too, when her hopes inevitably give way to pain. That unflinching openness with the reader is, perhaps, the reason that she has amassed such a following (one million Instagram followers at the time of writing).
Hades, however, seems to recognise her duties as an influencer, infusing her writing with guidance for others who may be experiencing the same breakdown as she went through, or who may do so in the future.
The portrait of a woman in a relationship with a narcissist will, hopefully, enable others to free themselves from such negative influences, or steer clear of them altogether.
Describing herself as a feminist writer, Hades’ later poems explore manipulation, control and the denial of love.
As part of this remit to the nitty-gritty of relationships, writing about the truth of love rather than about true love, she exposes the harmful myth of ‘unconditional love’. There should be no such thing, she says. A relationship needs to be a two-way street if you want to be happy, and no woman should settle for anything less.
Those poems that confront the realisation of this toxicity are, to my mind, the most powerful of a very impressive collection.
In ‘Spoonful’, for instance, Hades writes,
You give me enough to last one more day
A spoonful of love postpones our decay
She also writes, in ‘Garments’:
I’m not asking for too much, I’m asking the wrong person
And in ‘Leash’…
Only when I’m close to leaving
You say the things I want to hear…
Hades is by no means the only woman who has had to endure such things, but like all great wordsmiths she has the ability to present the issue in a concise, memorable and profoundly evocative way.
The remaining section of the new collection consists of 18 lyrical postcards penned by the author on her travels around the world.
You may be wondering just how poems and postcards go together, but they work well in providing a wider understanding of Arch and her interests, as well as her approach to creative writing.
Here we see the same mastery over the written word, the same canny gift for selecting just the right phrasing to paint a scene and mood in a few light brushes of the pen.
One of my favourites is a photo of Chambretaud, France, which is accompanied by the following: “I am eager to wander through the forest… I want to sit by your weeping willows and watch plump geese frolic in between your lily pads. We need nature, nature doesn’t need us.”
Her writing for the postcard, mostly in prose, is warm and comforting. A welcome psychic retreat after the dealings with a narcissist.
It’s not always a pleasant journey we are taken on, but Hades is the best of tour guides, providing a wise and soulful accompaniment every step of the way.
Fool’s Gold: Poetry and Postcards Volume Two by Arch Hades is out now on Amazon in paperback and eBook formats, priced £8.99 and £3.50 respectively. For more information, visit www.archhades.com or follow her on Instagram.