Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

Run by HappenStance Press

Rough Currency, Rebecca SharpThe cover is a monochrome photograph of a piece of stone with grooved circles. It could be the side of an old mill stone. Title and author name are placed one word per line in the bottom left hand corner, in a large sans serif font, all the same size. The title is black, the author name is white.

Tapsalteerie, 2021   £5.00

What shaping does

Structure and shape seem very important in this pamphlet. The end notes explain that the first section (‘ABOVE’) relates to the oil industry’s term ‘above ground’ (‘processing, logistics, administration, politics’, and the last (‘BELOW’) connects with ‘below ground’ (‘geology, drilling and digging’). The poet explains:

My own repurposing of these terms for the section headings Above and Below is to hold them more lightly, evoking imaginative spaces of ‘radical indeterminacy’ (After Oil).

To me, the first section is the most accessible and interesting, using form to explore the politics around capitalism/oil. I particularly like the concrete poems within the ‘Mechanisms of change’ sequence and the erasure poems in ‘Message received’.

 Photo of the first page of Mechanisms of change, showing the format of the poem which is a perfect triangle with point (as a full stop) at the bottom, and the widest side at the top.

Photo of 'Message Received' showing format with words dotted around the page with lots of white space between.

The mid-section (‘BETWEEN’) is made up of one sequence titled ‘Vinyl / Pirates’, which is explained in the end notes as ‘The point of course being, it’s all connected.’ This sequence ranges widely, covering urban deterioration, ‘a gas gun’ scaring birds from crops, ‘A thunder of trucks / propelled by the weight of logs on their backs’. To me, it speaks indirectly of industrialised life leading to climate crisis, with various intimations of dread: ‘so much catching fire’, ‘the song runs out’, ‘nowhere left to turn’.

‘BELOW’ is made up of free verse and prose poems. They alternate between poems of nostalgia that seem more about ‘little endings’ (‘Magpies’) than oil per se (although ‘At all times the staircase waits’ features rubber ‘welly-boots’ and perhaps the past is metaphorically underground?) and poems more explicitly about climate crisis and oil.

From ‘Sillage’ (and the googling it inspired) I now know that many perfumes contain chemicals derived from petroleum. I admire how the poet has conveyed so concisely the idea of oil/capitalism almost imperceptibly polluting everything and how she uses the form of the poem (and the idea of ‘sillage’ as the trail of perfume in the air) to leave the reader with that ghostly uneasiness:

Applied to pulse points it infiltrates, enters economy.
An exchange of rates. The spell of revenue. Borrowed heat converts the
message, droplets glamoured to a stream: chthonic, water, blood, air.
Then further
                        further
                                           further
                                                                away

Ramona Herdman