Typhoid August, Sarah Fletcher

Smith Doorstop, 2018  £5.00


This unusual, immersive and powerful sequence struck me as full of love triangles: things seem wrong left right and centre, and no couple safe or impregnable. It’s concentrated stuff, cleverly bottled into poem-vessels, with an intensity, at times almost delirium, about it.

In ‘Cordelia’, the narrator describes another’s voice as: ’a wire coat-hanger     I hang what I want on it’; ‘and in another life // we get cappuccinos and she tells me what sex with my boyfriend is like’ (in some detail).

In ‘Christina Crashes The Wedding’, boundaries are still not fixed. The gatecrasher ‘is invited because she’d be noticed more by her absence’;

She is calling my name      but the Ministry told me mishearings
are to be expected    from a bride of my unusually young age

Strong images billow out from these often splintered poems. This, from ‘Blue & Typhoid Mary (I)’:

I can tell he loves Mary with a love that’s no one’s fault    though he buys me
gin and crawls around the word divorce     [...]
His smile billows like the white sail of a ship when I say I’ve heard
she misses him

And there’s a flush, like shame, suffusing the material – ‘the vessel of a dark wave breaking’ (‘Worthy’) – as, onwards, individuals and couples struggle. In ‘The Occupant’, for instance, a questionable third party moves for three months into a marital home, gradually soiling and indenting 'the grey polyester’ sofa.

After he finally leaves, ‘My husband and I orbited silently around each other’;

We really have to do something about the couch, he said,
and I nodded. But we did not move, and it did not fix.

No, things don’t fix here: 'three on a match / in Heaven. One, making his confession. / Two, happy as the hireling. And me, / all my hair come undone, smiling.’ (Whiskey-five).

Charlotte Gann