Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

Run by HappenStance Press

The jacket is orange and outlined in a thick black line. The same thick black formatting is used for the title and author's name, both of which are in the top left hand corner, left justified, the author name very slightly bigger than the title. The bottom two inches of so of the jacket is its own outlined rectangle, inside which are the publication details (in a small regular font) that you would more usually find on the acknowledgements page.Lament, Briony Bax

Rough Trade Books, 2020     £7.99

Shining a light on mental illness

This is a topical pamphlet for our times. Strong, uninhibited poems which chronicle the experience of those living with schizophrenia. Hurdles and bureaucracy are faced by patients every day — as evidenced here through witness testimony.

‘World War III’ introduces us to the intense experience of living with a profound mental health condition. Through the entire poem, a wild range of imagery increases in emotional power. The narrator’s hands tremble, there’s ‘babbling to the judge’, a deck of cards collapses. Words like ‘hunted’, darting’, ‘destruction’, ‘soldiers’ and ‘guns’ pepper the lines as the mind is overwhelmed:

You lay in the single bed.
Helpless and curled, weeping,
hair matted like a lost puppy,
hands clamped over your ears to stop the voices.

Poignancy infuses the poem ‘Christmas’. The process of being sectioned is boldly expressed in factual lines and short sharp phrases. Violence is implied — ‘Largactil is forced into your veins’. There’s a sense of loneliness and abandonment running through this poem which is intensely affecting. And an ironic last line pulls no punches.

The concluding piece, ‘When It Comes’, describes the impending arrival of a psychosis. The lines are packed with sensory phrases and a sense of helplessness. The narrator seeks refuge but a ‘tiny spider’ turns up, ‘crawling out of the wallpaper’, followed by ‘an avalanche of arachnids’. Nothing to be done but accept them as ‘my sweet, sweet, spider children’.

A long prose poem called ‘Unlocking value or How the government is screwing the mentally ill’ describes the soul-destroying, laborious process of applying for social security — from completing a form, to county court, concluding with an image of palpable fear, ‘found frozen dead on a street corner’.

A laudable and inventive set of poems. Profits to be donated to MIND.

Maggie Mackay