Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

Run by HappenStance Press

I: A Woman Speaking Up, Shakti BlissThe A6 sheet that displays as a jacket (though it is only one section of a larger folder sheet) is white. The title is in bold read caps at the top. The letter 'I' is bigger than the rest and followed by a large red colon. The attribution (by Shakti Bliss) is in lower case and runs vertically downwards to the right of the main title. Then there is a line drawing of a symbol: something with wings, and a featureless body. The wings are more birdlike than insectlike, but the body more like a pupa. Around the lower part of the body some kind of creeper or tendril winds. There is a red circle where, if the body were human, the heart might roughly be. Below the large image there is small black lower case lettering. It reads 'This is a collection of poems about my journey after emotional domestic abuse'. Below this, in large italics, two further lines of text read: Profits will be used to help women / overcome the effects of domestic abuse.

2020  £1.50 (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

A single sheet of paper

Most pamphlets are recognisably book-like. They might be smaller — and thinner, of course — but generally they stick to the traditional format of pages appearing, in order, between a front and back cover, and the whole held together with staples or, occasionally, the luxury of stitching. The format works and so we don’t have to think about it.

There are, however, other ways of presenting a short collection. Shakti Bliss has arranged her sequence of thirteen poems on a single sheet of paper, printed both sides, and folded down to one-eighth. When unfolded, the sheet is almost A3 in size; folded, it’s a neat A6. When folded, the title sits on the front, while the back explains how these poems confront the painful questions of domestic abuse and coercive control alongside her own strategies for personal survival. Unfold the sheet, and there are the poems; the titles, numbered, are printed in red and sit down each right-hand edge.

If the poems had been set in a conventional booklet, there would have been a sense of implied progress, a linear movement. Survival, however, isn’t quite like that and so this single sheet works not only as an elegant piece of design and typesetting but also as a metaphor for the whole experience of abuse and surviving it. They are inseparably part of one life. There is a triumphant note in the thirteenth poem, ‘Rise’:

You are a Phoenix
It is over
You are still alive
Now, now is your time.

That pride in survival, however, comes from the ashes of the past and from the way Bliss recognises the differing support systems she has relied on. They are folded into her, just as these poems are folded.

Whose help was most significant?
Was it my inner resilience?
Was it the God I prayed to?
Was it the people on the other side of the calls I
made to the Samaritans?

Very few pamphlets could work in this way but Bliss has found a tangible way to show the reader how poems connect with life and, at the same time, how to celebrate the human spirit.

D A Prince