This book is Farish’s third – her debut won the Forward Prize for Best First Collection – and it is a confident performance. Farish’s poems have balance, and a smiling stride; they take their time (and seldom too much). Her eye for colour is striking. …As the book’s title suggests, the writer’s subject here is memory, which she credits in ‘The Dog Itself’ for providing her with the materials for creating verse. … ‘The Dog Itself’ emerges as a modest and unpretentious job description for the poet. This lack of pretension is also striking elsewhere in the collection.
Farish explores different types of memory in her poems, from the personal to the historical and hypothetical. ‘Athens’ describes the ignominious settlement in place before the Greeks arrived to fix the city in our collective subconscious. …The poem is a moving paean to the forgotten tribes of history – the lost villages, the uncelebrated communities outshone by later, showy upstarts. The funny poem, ‘Jane Eyre, a Sequel’ is a tightly written reimagining of the afterlives of the book’s main characters… this sequel is playful and visually lush.
Locations in the collection vary but Farish returns intermittently to her native Cumbria….’Calling’, possibly the strongest poem of the bunch, is a slip of a thing yet underlines how even just a lone syllable [‘lass’] can offer consolation. The word provides the speaker with ‘a home, / a geographic location’; better still, it resurrects the dead: ‘I hear my Dad, / Oh lass.’
The simplicity of Farish’s poetry, its unfussiness and brevity, shine through too in ‘Shift’, composed of four couplets. The poem describes how, as a child, the speaker’s parents took turns to be at home at night… The clean quartering of the poem into finger-like stanzas captures the seesaw rhythm of this common but rather saddening domestic arrangement. Though at times these poems speak too much of themselves, their economy, vividness and precision more than make up for their shortcomings. The Dog of Memory is an intriguing offering from Helen Farish, evidence above all of a poet still finding her way, working out what to do with the strange and beautiful things laid at her feet by her own capacity for recall.
Leaf Arbuthnot, TLS 14 July 2017