Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

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Diary of a Divorce, S. D. CurtisThe jacket is full of pale mauve/pale blue drapes or theatre curtains, with a gap on the left where the curtains open and we see a monochrome girl on stage looking through. She's wearing a summer dress, the skirt gathered, and with a belt. Behind her, all is dark. The main title is in very large white lowercase letters in the bottom third of the jacket. The author's name is in smaller black letters near the top, just right of the girl's shoulders.

Arc Publications, 2020   £7.00

First lines

Those first words, first lines; what are they doing in relation to the whole of the collection? They have a role in their own poem, of course, but do they have any larger work to do?

The title of S.D.Curtis’s collection (her debut) makes the overall subject clear. Readers know where it will end and that we’ll be sharing the journey. The first poem, ’Anniversary Gift’, opens by evoking the tangible attributes attached to those early anniversaries —

Paper, wood, bronze,
so the years are fêted.
I started well

The order and choice of material matters. Paper (first anniversary) is delicate to the touch — as a new marriage is — but wood (fifth) and bronze (eighth) are increasingly more solid. In commercial terms they’re more valuable commodities. Giving them simply as a partial list also conjures some of the future anniversary attributes, the ones not listed — silver, sapphire, gold …

Absence can be powerful in poetry; echoes of what’s not said or written can bring them to the fore. But we know from the collection’s title that there won’t be a gleaming future. The tension is suggested before it begins, before it becomes part of the poem. Then, half-way down the page —

Ten years in
and instead of tin,
I spit truth
like blood

Tin has value and substance. Poetically it’s a clever choice of material, allowing for rhyme and the half-rhyme with ‘ten’. In addition there’s an echo of association with that derogatory adjective ‘tinny’ — enough of an echo to show a marriage no longer firm or lasting. It enables Curtis to move into the shakier ground of the emotional fragility that comes while she recognises where this unstable marriage is going.

The sturdy materials in the opening line have connections rooted in a real world; they provide a good contrast with how the marriage will dissolve.

D A Prince