Queerfella, Simon Maddrell
The Rialto, 2020 £6.00
What makes a pamphlet stand out from the rest?
It is hard to enjoy the poems that beat your own entry to win a competition (in this case, The Rialto’s recent pamphlet call), but this publication won me over. I recommend it for its stand-out quality, even to my fellow wound-lickers.
The author describes Queerfella as a ‘journey from shame to unashamed’. The narrator uses a consistent voice — but a really interesting range of language, repetition, shape and ambiguity — to tell the story of that journey. For example, ‘The Episode’ is set out in three columns, with variations of being ‘left’ on the left and ‘right’ on the right.
The poems move from memories of childhood (with the speaker experiencing both homophobia and undermining attitudes about the nature of male-ness) towards poems of adulthood and gradual parental acceptance (acceptance both ways — with his own forgiveness of the mother who left him, as well as the father who judged him).
I particularly like the humour and nuance in the loose villanelle ‘Alright Really’, which is about his mother:
In the 90s, she posted me
hand-written notes on
(homophobic) cartoons saying
I thought you might like this
and I did, not just because
they were alright really.
Poems like this (and the work as a whole) give an unsentimental, honest and emotional portrait of one person’s experience, in such a way that they illuminate wider societal attitudes and issues (e.g. homophobia, HIV, being closeted at work etc).
I also enjoyed being challenged as a reader by a few poems that truly are ‘unashamed’ in their frank sexuality, such as ‘Fuck and Go’:
door open, on his hands
& knees ready & waiting for
me to undress my cock.
There are not many pamphlets that stand out like this — I can totally see why it attracted the Rialto judges.