Two Left Boots, Veronica CaperonThe cover of the pamphlet is cream coloured with the book title in large lower case blue print in the top quarter, and the author's name in smaller lower case in the bottom eighth. A large photograph of a pair of walking boots, a normal pair with right and left, is lifted into the cover in the middle approximately and the outline of the photo blurs into the rest. The boots are brown, and on what looks like grass.

Fisherrow, 2016   £5.00

What makes the best poems best

This is a friendly pamphlet, packed full of accessible, likeable poems. I thought all would work well in performance. The poet is clearly a person of character, and there’s lots of mischief and charm here.

I didn’t think all were equally strong on the page alone. A handful stood out for me as especially good, while the rest flowed over me pleasurably. I was interested in the difference between the ones that seemed to me pleasant (but essentially slight) and those I admired enough to revisit and savour.

I think what I like best is something to do with form. A few of the poems are expertly disciplined and have found precisely the right shape and sound for themselves. Others settle too easily (to my mind) for placing one phrase loosely under another, a progression of thoughts rather than a honed unity. But it is so hard to pin this down!  

I particularly like ‘Provençal Spring’, though I would have preferred it in quatrains (not eight-line stanzas) and with a title that would emphasise its balladic approach. It is otherwise perfectly made: a simple, emotive elegy for two French brothers lost in the war.

‘Ladies of the Committee’ is equally good, for different reasons: two understated (but barbed) parallel stanzas, funny and clever.

The opening poem, ‘Lawkland’, operates on the simple principle of piling one detail on top of the next, in a repetitive sentence pattern:

It’s the ewe calling her lamb
    and high-pitched reply,
it’s the faint smell of manure
   hanging in the air

This pattern continues through 32 lines – with a minor but effective change of sentence pattern at the very end that works beautifully.

The final poem is a concrete piece: ‘At Home on World Aids Day’. Though the title is anything but auspicious, this is a fine example of form and shape re-enacting poignant meaning. Anybody can format lines into a shape. Few poets can do it in a way that startles the reader into unexpected vividness – as happens here.

Helena Nelson