The Sideways for It, Ian McEwen

Flipped Eye Publishing, 2017       £4.00

Lateral thinking

Interestingly, Ian McEwen has adopted a landscape format to present these poems — you turn the pamphlet on its side to read each one. This has a marked effect: their interlocking stanzas allow the reader to explore images and ideas from a variety of perspectives. Within a wide-ranging set of subjects, several poems caught my eye and resonated with my personal experience.

‘The Court of the rocking-horse’, for example, reminds me of a childhood treasure, a Christmas present of great joy:

the shine of grey dapple, the real hair of the tail,
                            clean, without fault,           eagle-eyed.

The lateral lines encourage more than one interpretation, a clever conceit, e.g. the damage to the horse may have been worsened by the Polyfilla, or ‘an attempted cover-up’. Take your pick. It seems the horse ‘had fallen in the garage’ and the restorer, ‘a local man’, ‘frowned like a surgeon’. A quirky tale of a labour of love.

Most streets in the land have been subject to workmen turning gardens into driveways. The laying of block paving is the focus of ‘Porlock permeable block’. The narrator observes the work being undertaken. The phrase ‘dusty, muscled but unskilled’ can be applied equally to ‘two lads’ and to the work. The neighbour who’s commissioned the job boasts both about being an ‘expert in straight lines’ and lets ‘drop how many K he can afford’. There’s a neat musical note to add colour. The lads lay the blocks ‘in syncopated chink and scrape’. We hear ‘the happy ‘plink’ when each brick elbows in’. The poem makes a dig about the neighbour’s smugness. I’ve met similar.

‘The falling’ flows with autumn imagery, read vertically and horizontally. I’m drawn to its celebration of that season, the lines peppered with phrases such as ‘a pigeon sky that perhaps means snow’, ‘the nimble parachute talks of air’ and ‘the lustres of privet and fossil’. The poem ends on ‘towards’ leaving the reader in mid motion with the falling lime-key. A dizzy experience of natural energy.

Maggie Mackay