Anderson’s Piano, Sally Evans
Diehard Publishers, 2016 £3.00
The power of scene-setting
Every day I go for the same walk. This isn’t, to me, dull. Depending on the season, light, state of the earth, I focus on different things. The cobwebs in the grass. My tangled thoughts. The crows, or sheep. Returning to the same frame can be expansive not narrowing. Especially when you’ve chosen that frame as carefully as Sally Evans has, and then set a compelling scene, as the ‘Note’ at the front of this pamphlet does.
‘Anderson’s Piano is the name of a Victorian signalling system on a single track railway line in the Pass of Brander between Crianlarich and Oban’, it says. How glorious the detail. But she zooms in even closer: ‘A fence of wires runs north of the line, and in the event of a rockfall, the wires are tripped…’ These wires ‘sing’, she says, ‘in windy weather’. And then, ‘In June 2010 a train derailed high in this landscape late at night. The passengers were led to safety…’ The stage is set.
I want to walk this walk: I want to hear those wires sing, and see those passengers brought through that night to safety. The writer has drawn me in before I’ve read a word of poetry. And so then I do: ‘... a flare of yellow light in the dusk, / sweet tea for the shaken driver’ (‘1 Cruachan: derailed train’). There are thirty-four poems in this pamphlet. Each is nineteen lines long (consisting of a septet – seven-line stanza – followed by two of six).
Sally Evans takes ‘Anderson’s Piano’ as the starting point for various musings. Personally I most enjoy the fact the poems are all grounded in their setting. I find myself thinking back to Auden’s ‘Night Mail’ as again and again we return to the context: ‘There was little to police. / Heavy summer hung in the woods’ (‘12 The two policewomen’); ‘If you want to go to Oban today / then go by Inverness’ (‘13 Diversions’); ‘The big crane crawler trundles / over the roads back to Falkirk’ (‘26 Aftermath’).