Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

Run by HappenStance Press

User Stories, CD BoylandThe jacket has a very simple design. It is white, with both image and text in pale purple. The image is large and it's a knife, the blade towards the right hand edge. It could be a kitchen knife. It looks dangerous, and there's a shadow extending from the point towards the bottom left hand corner of the jacket. To the left of the knife, and about one third of the jacket down is the title, in bold lower case, first letters capitalised. Below this the name of the author very small, same font. The text is left justified.

Stewed Rhubarb, 2020    £5.99

The user experience

There’s much to be said about CD Boyland’s pamphlet that I can’t fit into this review. If time and space allowed, I might dwell on the way he plays with form and space throughout the collection, but there’s an argument that focusing on form over content suggests the reviewer didn’t think much of the latter. (Please note: I could be drummed out of the Reviewers’ Circle for this.)

However, what struck me most when reading User Stories is the use of sky and flight as a kind of recurring motif. The opening poem, ‘The Fiddle’, has a nightingale nesting ‘an orison’ (a prayer – I had to look it up) in the body of the eponymous fiddle, the bow

unfold[ing] the            possibilities of air
set free                       your sky-bound song

Wings and sky feature throughout the collection. For example, in the columnar ‘The Pillar’ the whole poem is literally held up by the last lines:

                        the pillar
|| the one whose job it is
|| it seems || to bear each
day || upon your shoulders
|| & hold up the sky 

Those double vertical slashes act as punctuation and also form miniature Corinthian columns (see, we’re covering form too).

Further references to the sky occur in poems like the lovely ‘The Letters’ (‘are they falling from the sky?), but we also have a strong showing for wings, those instruments of flight and therefore linked to the heavens. ‘The Caryatid’, for example, mentions that you might   

                        ransack
your gran’s sewing box
& make a pair of wings

And in the final poem, ‘The Sky’, we get both. We find the protagonist has ‘feathers / smearedacross / their bare back’. The poem (and the pamphlet) closes with a challenging ‘they-say’ comment. You can practise with hands and legs, ‘they say’, but it’s different with wings. When it comes to wings —

it’s the sky

or nothing

Mat Riches