The Last Dinosaur in Doncaster, Sarah Wimbush
Smith/Doorstop, 2021 £6.00
Finding humour in the bleak
This pamphlet covers Sarah Wimbush’s place — Doncaster. Sometimes employing the lyrical local dialect, it somehow always manages to make the local universal. Her poems track her own life growing up there, with poems like ‘The Pencil Sharpener’:
Fridays were pencil sharpening.
Like a bus conductor’s ticket machine
clamped on the teacher’s desk
And they capture the exact details of the town, as well as the period — for example, she reminisces about the time before alco pops and bottled beer when we used to mix our own. This, in ‘The Lost’:
Gooin’ round Donny town Satdy? Lager,
Lager and lime, lager and black, lager bitter,
Lambert and Butler, The White Bear
Another memory that echoed for me was learning to drive in derelict spaces with a supportive and patient dad. Here’s ‘I learned to drive in a metallic blue Ford Capri’:
nine-point turns, kangaroo hops, Dad’s knuckles tighter
than wheel nuts as he yelled you can gu faster
if ya like love.
As well as her own personal evolution, Sarah Wimbush also tracks the changes around her in the environment, as the industrial mining landscape of the 1980s begins to disappear taking with it the social fabric it had woven so tightly around itself.
These poems are political: they are angry, but not shouty. They get the point across but always with humour. So, she does cover the miners strikes, the closures, the retail decay, the social issues — but all in a new light which, for me, is what makes this pamphlet so special.
This is perfectly illustrated in the opening poem, ‘Near Extinction’ — an elegy to the town as it was in its pit days, still home to some optimists
they can turn the tide
in landlocked South Yorkshire.
But largely full of realists:
Mrs Selby, watching ghosts
of picket line past —
This poem closes beautifully, with the
final man down, under the headgear —
the last dinosaur in Doncaster.