Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

Run by HappenStance Press

The Bitter Lemons of Nerval, George Beddow

original plus, 2016, £3.60Background colour is cream. Title of collection is in a large bold lower case, with main words having a leading capital. All text is centred in top quarter of the jacket. Below it is an oval shape, inside which is a tree and four disproportionately large lemons at its base. The author's name is centred in small black lower case below this.

Precision and Intent

From the onset, Beddow displays his precision with juxtaposed images in his poem ‘Triptych’:

The gene for a glass eye is recessive. Sweet peas bloom in a rain’s blue rinse.

On an initial read, these two sentences have nothing in common. But look closer, and you’ll find every word is intentional.

Striking sentences and imagery appear regularly in his prose poems. For example, in ‘Dolly Mixture’: ‘The view from his pew is of a slow-motion pillow fight frothing the ocean.’ There’s something attractive about the specificity of this sentence. Perhaps it’s the alliteration between the two images tying them together, or how the colour of the pillows transforms into the wild foaming of the ocean.

In other pieces, Beddow moves away from prose in favour of a form where each sentence is treated as a separate stanza. For example, in ‘Summer Garden Party Amid Violets & Narcissi’, he opens with:

On the terrace a poster boy for the perils of fasting shrinks to a violet.

The reader is drawn into the scene with action and the suggestion of something sinister – a far cry from the ‘Summer Garden Party’ promised in the title. The sentence runs on for what seems a moment too long, adding to the uncomfortable atmosphere. In a similar way to the earlier juxtaposition, these stand-alone sentences act as precise but separate moments, calling out to each other, building a collective whole.

A final thought: the poet’s ability to widen a poem’s lens, and to shift subjects quickly, highlights the power of his writing. This is demonstrated with ease throughout, particularly in ‘Doctors and Nurses’: ‘Gauging vital capacity with blows on my spirometer … a tree is blasted from its roots.’ The action shifts quickly, disarming the reader. This is a pamphlet confident in its declarations, its precise presentations.

Callan Waldron-Hall