Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

Run by HappenStance Press

Jack the Stripper, Paul SuttonThe jacket is practically black but we gradually see an image of a man in a trilby from the back apparently in a dark street with red lighting. Very murky. The collection title is in large white lower case letters and runs vertically from the bottom left hand corner reading bottom to top. The author's name is right justified in the bottom right hand corner, so the two lines of print are at right angles to one another.

Knives Forks and Spoons Press, 2021     £6.50

Taste test

No one could say they hadn’t been warned. The endorsements praise ‘a refusal to say the right thing’ [Alan Baker]. Rupert Loydell calls the poems ‘an antidote to woolly-minded liberalism’ even though ‘he may not always agree with the content or politics …’ 

Sigh. As a woolly-minded liberal myself, the title alone gets my back up. There’s a well-founded feminist critique of our fascination with men who murder women, and there’s no need to rehearse it here.

The title Jack the Stripper brings the additional annoyance of flippancy, presumably intended as a warning to faint-hearts like me, with perhaps an additional nod to ‘stripping’ away comfortable mainstream attitudes.

In ‘Prologue’, the point of view is third-person. We see things as ‘he’ (presumably Jack) sees them, a chap described as ‘London’s wanderer’ and the ‘only true poet’.

Another poem (titled ‘A man in action wearing a trilby’) follows the downcast killer, remembering ‘where he left naked bodies’ and musing on how ‘Any man can imagine this / cars idling, the girls waiting.’ Our sympathy here appears to be with the Ripper character:

‘It would have been better
to get caught’ — unlucky he
never was.

Maybe this is a challenge to lazy thinking? Or an example of the ‘wit’ mentioned in the endorsements? I just can’t quite see it.

Only the opening poems are about a presumed ‘Jack’, but the idea of violence recurs elsewhere. Interestingly, it’s a publication without female voices (even in the endorsements). The only portrayal of a woman that seems to me even mildly sympathetic comes in ‘His story’:

I followed her home
the first time she walked back alone —
it was my daughter.

— as opposed to 

dictatorial women in
purple irradiated dresses — teeth which
drag all the air away

In ‘Appraising the Magpie of Stonebridge Park’, the poet incorporates comments on his own work (as a ‘crime writer’ ), and cheerfully anticipates the response of readers like myself:

Seemingly unsuccessful – my books cannot even be found in garden centres. 

[ ... ]

I write with no worry these harmless words will be misquoted, nor my obvious humour misunderstood.

[ ... ]

Reviewing these notes, it seems incredible the writer wasn't apprehended sooner.

I knew this pamphlet wasn’t for me. I hope I’ve given you a flavour of it.

Ramona Herdman