Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

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Letters to Rosie, Ross WilsonThe pamphlet is smaller than the usual A5, though not as small as A6. The jacket is crimson, with no images. All text is right justified. The biggest characters are in the title, which is a regular, seriphed font, and yellow, about two inches up from the bottom. Below this, much smaller and in white regular sans serif, the author's name. There is a small puff quote occupying three short lines top right.

Tapsalteerie, 2020, £4.00

Rosie-tinted spectacle

There’s a point in ‘Letters to Rosie’ where Cyril Connolly’s idea of the pram in the hall as a sombre enemy to good art kicks in.… I say this not because the poems aren’t good (they are) but more because there’s a gap in the recordings. At some point, about two poems after ‘Joy’, where the titular Rosie has ‘haul[ed] [herself] up / on my leather foot-stool’ and is about to be able to walk, the time shifts and we leap from Rosie being under one to being two.

It’s a well-known truth that a child in possession of mobility is a child causing constant fear in a parent’s heart. So it makes sense that the poems set between one and two-years old tail off. As ‘The clock’ puts it

Before we knew it
forty year old legs were running
after two year olds,
and hands were scooping
one ticking centre into another.

However, Rosie’s life up to this stage is well-documented and well-measured. In ‘Scan’, there’s her as a ‘Wee bean on a screen, / two centimetres long’; and in ‘Keeping time’, we see Wilson measuring new life against death — ‘I’d been thinking of Jim and May, / gone within weeks of each other’. And the premature arrival of Rosie sees him confronting his own aging process: ‘In eight days I’ll be thirty nine. / Two hours ago, you were born.’

This whole pamphlet reads to me as if the poet is pulling memories of Rosie’s early years into a coherent document to pass on to her before time erodes them. As he says himself in the almost-title-poem, ‘For Rosie’:

A year ago the space you’re in
was empty and I, almost forty,
had no memories of you at all.
Now they go into me fast as you grow

into the space you make
in home and head.

The last few words of last poem (‘Echo’) show Rosie becoming more independent — ’your hand / no longer needs / my hand’. As with all parent-child relationships, you wonder who needs whom most.

Mat Riches