Perfect Timing, Christopher Horton
tall-lighthouse, 2021 £6.00
These poems are described as taking ‘new creative perspectives on familiar subjects’, but it’s hard to get an angle on Christopher Horton. The sideways looks come from him, but it often feels like he’s also present either hovering above, or walking alongside the reader (or the protagonist of the poem). He’s separate but still there. He has previously worked, we learn, as a town planner, and reading Perfect Timing this makes complete sense. It feels to me as though he’s written down the thoughts of the little Subbuteo-like people that populate 3D models of a new town.
In fact, the idea of separation is prominent throughout. For example, there’s the ‘double-lock[ed] doors and tighten[ed] blinds’ of a couple’s flat on a London high street that keeps them apart from the homeless (in ‘The Homeless’).
And there’s the distance of language and geographical separation in ‘Cabbages’, a poem involving wartime, D-Day, scavenged cabbages and potential starvation near Murmansk….
And there’s the separateness of ‘the last lobster’ being put in a tank in ‘Gastronomy’ and puzzling over a picture of one of his own kind:
The lobster in the tank stares at the picture for recognition.
The lobster in the picture clearly can’t stare back.
The lobster in the tank does not know this
and assumes the lobster in the picture is stuck up.
However, it’s in the poems towards the end of the book that we see a deepening of that separation. ‘Returning To The Office in the Year 2500’ achieves this by using a flash-forward. Then the poem ‘Same Air, Repeat, Same Air’ really brings the idea home in its first sentence and opening stanza, starting as it does with ‘Side step away from the lads at the bus stop / as they emit thick plumes of white vapour’ and ending with ‘We do not laugh too hard for fear / that we might breathe too much of the same air.’
Like the town(s) Horton has constructed for us to wander around (as long as we can ignore other people), Perfect Timing has taken a long time to construct, with at least one poem (‘The Minister As A Horse’) dating back to 2008.
But has it been worth the wait? In short, yes. Very much so.