Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

Run by HappenStance Press

translating silence, Mike BarlowThe jacket is white. In the top two thirds, there's a full colour square image, perhaps a painting, roughly in the middle with a broad band of white around it. The painting shows a large yellow circle (impression of sun) placed against overlapping squares, in shades of blue. There's a big shadow in the bottom right hand corner -- could be a hill, could suggest shrubbery. Below the painting, the title in a plain, smallish, lowercase font, centred. Below this, also centred, but in italics and a lot smaller, is the author's name: all lowercase.

weather or knot press, 2020              £4.00

Poetry as meditation

It’s significant that the title is translating silence rather than translated silence. This poetry doesn’t arrive at neat explanations of the meanings of silence. Nor does it draw inferences. Instead, it circles around different forms of silence and leaves space for interpretations to creep in.

The most obvious evidence of this is the poems’ format on the page. Each consists of a small rectangle of text surrounded by blank paper. It’s as if the texts are pebbles dropped into the quiet of the white expanse.

Punctuation, too, is replaced by space:

no wind           trees stilled
distant motorway traffic’s river noise
switched off                even the river’s
river noise an absence like a thought
slipped under the surface

In these lines, space invokes the stillness of an empty afternoon. It also suggests an underlying tension between things — in this case the river and the road.

Throughout, the poet explores the role of silence in relationships between people and things. One poem, for instance, describes a phone call where there’s a ‘slight delay between / what I say and your reply’, and the speaker’s left ‘listening hard for what it is you’re not saying’.

In this way, the publication acts as a series of meditations on the nature of silence. Refusing to draw solid conclusions, it creates its own silences.

These are minimalist poems which examine the unspoken. They do this all the more evocatively for their spareness.

Isabelle Thompson