A Field Guide to Wedding Guests, Helen Reid
Poet’s House Pamphlets, 2021 £7.00
A watcher of wedding guests
This pamphlet is named after a sequence of poems distributed throughout its length. Both the guests themselves and the experience of people-watching are familiar, from the first image in the first poem ‘1: The Sullen Infanta’:
A tiny girl is a central point in the flurry
of shuffling on the church steps.
She stands bleakly in a pearl-studded bodice
I enjoy how we observe so many people at this wedding, but don’t get a self-portrait of our speaker, other than through their value-judgments — as in that ‘bleakly’. They have a definite feminist bent, too, and particular interest in the female guests.
In ‘5: Sister of the Bride, Portrait’, we get another sharp image (that perfectly imperfect chignon!):
The older sister of the bride,
barefoot and alone, chignon undone,
leans against the back wall
Despite some sort of pap still caked to her dress,
she’s no longer the baby-draped drudge
overlooked by all
In ‘6: Mr Tongue’ we revisit an adolescent memory of the speaker at a depressingly similar function, being sexually harassed by an older man:
we rejoined the grown-ups and there he was,
someone’s uncle in the disco dance, working the room,
and though I was too clever then, all I could do
was make fun of his wife.
All our wedding clichés are here, including the girl in pastels who gets too drunk and sobs her make-up down her face in ‘8: The Extra’:
No one likes to look, but in this otherwise
immaculate production, a young woman in powder blue
who had been hurriedly ushered from the dance
has re-emerged to loom tragically by the buffet
The publication ends with the shortest poem, ‘9: The Great Aunt’, featuring the oldest character (nicely balancing the small girl at the start). The judgement is less clear to me here, and maybe that is the point: that we hold these rituals, we size each other up during these weird enclosed ‘special days’, and yet all the time life keeps staggering on:
staggers to every table,
on legs like
Twiglets in court shoes.