Driftwood Publications, 2005 - £4.00
CHAPBOOKS lend themselves well to exploring one or two subjects or themes in depth—what might become repetitive in a full-size collection is often merely resonant in a pamphlet.
There’s much to admire in Pauline Rowe’s personal take on motherhood and memory. Sometimes she’ll hit on a detail or image (for me it was “the rubber stamp clocks/ Miss Hobday uses/ to teach the time”) that transports you straight back to a 60s/70s childhood, while she’s capable of producing a fresh, memorable phrase even when tackling much-written about scenarios, for example “carrying you like a branch of fire/ to set light to the world” in ‘Coming Home’.
And in others, such as ‘Screening’, when she describes a hospital scanner as a “hi-tech/ etch-a-sketch”, she combines the past and present to good effect. While most of the time she writes in conversational, unrhymed free verse, a sonnet like ‘1967’, with its neat, unobtrusive rhymes, shows that she can do formal too.
But there are gripes. Sometimes she tries a bit too hard, and in straining for the startling image she ends up being imprecise or even bafflingly surreal. Not that there isn’t room for such things in poems, of course, but they’re ill at ease with the more predominant mood in this collection.
And then there’s the production of the book itself. The glossy cover’s fine, but inside there were too many annoying typos to excuse. Some were obvious (one or two had even been corrected by hand), but others, especially in the spacing between words and the use of capital letters, almost had you wondering if they were a deliberate poetic device. Rowe’s a promising poet, but she’s being let down here by her publisher.