Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

Run by HappenStance Press

Cream cover with a brown-sepia drawing of a terrace of houses, one with its windows blacked. Pamphlet title in penned black inkWhat the House Taught Us, Anne Bailey

The Emma Press, 2021    £6.50

Looking right in

I liked this pamphlet — found it sad and interesting. Above all, I appreciated the depth of its enquiry. In one poem ‘When the lake came’, we learn there is a ‘lake’ in ‘the living room’:

It was an inconvenience
we had to stop the children from jumping in.

Eventually they understood: We walk round it,
avoid staring, get on with our lives.

But of course that doesn’t mean the lake isn’t there, affecting everyone with its ‘magnetic pull’:

What would happen if we leaned over
and looked right in?

Well, I think these poems do just that.

In ‘The problem with magic’, we learn about ‘the girl’ who’s four and invisible when she stands at the right place on the stairs. It’s from here she overhears ‘the news of her father’s death’. She can’t let this in:

There was a moment, there on the step, when she knew
that special powers were hers if she chose them.
She gripped the handrail and turned to go

[...]

There is a mind in which this girl exists,
still holding up the sky. It has never occurred to her
that she could have chosen to cry.

I love this poem: with such simple language, it’s so exact, and compassionate in its enquiry into how the human mind copes. That’s a theme that, for me, runs through poems like ‘The little girl and the universe’, ‘Domestic’ and ‘Mind’s eye’, which explores where we shelve images that are indigestible:

There is a place in a wood,
in the bottom of a drawer,
at the back of a mind.

That’s where another shocking death is held:

bloated and floating there
in nineteen eighty-two.

And ‘My mother’ brilliantly explores the uncomfortable but familiar ways we go on carrying our early influences:

My mother

is a coat I wear

I love this poet’s clarity, and could write much more: space doesn’t allow. I’ll end with the close of ‘Dinky the budgerigar’:

                 just to be there and want something
so very much. It should have been enough.

It should have. It often isn’t. Anne Bailey’s clear-sighted poems face this.

Charlotte Gann