Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

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Inverted Night, John W. SextonThe jacket is cream and features a water colour image, huge of an eye. The eye seems sad, and around it are thick washes of blue and mauve, all running down the page and suggesting tearfulness. The title is in purple caps, fairly small and centred just up from the foot of the jacket. The author's name, in bright pinky-red is a couple of inches above that. Both are well below the 'eye'.

SurVision Books, 2019   €6.99

A place for the heart

This pamphlet of largely surrealist poetry uses surprise and non sequitur to invert our expectations and question our perceptions and beliefs. All this is played out on a large stage.

For example, ‘The Snails’ seem in themselves to be world-creators, who ‘think you into being’ but then become ‘a pestilence upon your creation’.

The confident authorial voice tells you how things are, while also telling you how wrong your beliefs are:

You wake for the first time but are convinced it is a numerous morning.
The newly-minted world looks the way you imagined it always was.

The title poem looks at how we invent disciplines and institutions to define and police truth:

She observes that this is the reality of Physics.
She presents her observations in a paper to the Academy.

The Academy looks in dismay at the findings she presents.
If the universe is a poem it will be infinitely unreachable.

Many of these pieces are faintly scary in their inversions, as they dismantle society’s props and our conveniences of thought. I’d say it’s a collection that’s more mind than heart, so I particularly enjoy flashes of humour (like the Academy’s dismay) when they do come.

I also enjoyed ‘The Weasel’, which is seductively, joyfully, dreamlike as it turns inward to question individual perceptions and feelings through a half-sighting:

You may see it pass over the meadow.

But when you go to inspect the grass
there is no residue of footfall.

The weasel pours itself forward
in some trickery that passes for running.

[…]

If your heart was a clock losing its time
it would be that weasel who stole it.

In ‘Tin Soldier’, a child’s toy soldier is accidentally crushed. He sees it’s hollow and ‘heartless’ inside and realises the emotional value of things comes from us, as the beings loving them: ‘Everything is the anything heart will ride.’

When the heart is allowed for in the surreal inversions, as in the last two poems, that’s — for me — when the effect really hits home.

Ramona Herdman