Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

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An Offering, Stewart SandersonThe full colour cover has a bold image of a bird's head looking up from the left into the sky. Below it several heads with long beaks look down towards the left hand corner. You can't see teh bodies of any of teh birds. The colours are dark greens and umber, with the top bird a creamier colour its eye rolling upwards. You can see the horizon between sea and sky about one third of the way up the book. The title is in white lower case font right justified about two inches down. The author's name is very small lower case below that. It is a striking image.

Tapsalteerie, 2019   £5.00

Rhyming for a reason

One of the surprises here — this is Stewart Sanderson’s second pamphlet and I haven’t read the first — is the variety. There are carefully constructed landscape pieces, a tiny fragment and riddles about sparrows and ‘Egyptian’ herring.

The other is Sanderson’s use of rhyme. Sanderson is a wonderful rhymer. There were moments when as a southern reader (Sanderson is Scottish) the rhymes taught me something new. I’d never heard or read ‘sough’ before. Sanderson rhymes it with ‘rock’.

Not every poem rhymes. Some wouldn’t want to. But the consistency and confidence with which Sanderson employs it is hard not to notice. It’s not a popular device.

Rhyme helps a poet talk to the reader, to communicate information or make an argument, and because there’s something necessarily arbitrary about a rhyming poem, there’s no fear of being lectured or hectored at. This creates a kind of trust.

There are two sonnets, each of which holds a meditation on a landscape: a rhymed-wrapped sonnet is like a trap for an image. Then there are conversational poems, a disquisition on Shakespeare’s ‘lost play’, and the gentle ‘Waking in Grez’, which (judging by the date beneath the title) appears to be a reflection on the election of Donald Trump.

‘Love’s Labour’s Won’ is a witty thought experiment with a sad, understated ending. That the play probably never existed hardly matters. ‘Waking in Grez’ plays out the moment when you learn something awful on the news and are waiting to share the knowledge with someone who doesn’t know. In this poem, the imagery is subdued. Grez is ‘swaddled in smirr and woodsmoke’, while an imagined Glasgow floods with morning light like ‘a low / glimmering wave, which drifts like cream / through black coffee.’ Rhyme can be a kind of celebration of the everyday:

For me it’s time to take a shower
then try to write reality:
the vast vulgarity of power;
the falling short of poetry.

It’s a celebration of falling short as an end in itself, which — of course — is poetry’s way of winning.

Jeremy Wikeley