Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

Run by HappenStance Press

Toolbox Therapy, Anne Laure CoxamThe cover is a large photograph of the stone entry to something: hard to say what it is exactly because about two thirds of the photo is in black shade. A third is in bright daylight and this occupies a rectangle from the bottom right corner into the middle. In this bright rectangle is a woman's shadow. She could be holiding a phone in one hand. The other hand is up in the air over her head. Perhaps she's enraged. The title of the pamphlet is in the top left hand corner (the dark part of the cover) in white italics, with the author's name below in ordinary white lower case font.

Sad Press, 2016   £6.00

Sanity and madness

This pamphlet is not afraid of mental illness, nor of ‘the insanes’. It is serious, and comical, and frank. The third poem in the collection, ‘Since my earliest childhood’ begins:

the loony bin is not
by a lithium lake         it once was
a convent in the village

Of course, the word ‘asylum’, before it became scarily associated with mental illness, originally meant sanctuary. ‘Loony’ + ‘bin’ = a place you dump something you don’t want to know about.

But not here. Here anything and everything can be said. The uncompromising statements in some of the poems reminded me (this is a compliment) of Ivor Cutler. There are no simple conclusions, and many of the statements are freely allowed to conflict.

The best example of oppositional statements, perhaps, is in ‘Mum’s the word’, which might easily have been titled ‘What my mother said’. The poem is a list of short sentences, or questions, all of which (the reader infers) came out of the mouth of the poet’s mother. To me, these seem wholly authentic. Several are about men.

For example, ‘You should not jump on men’, ‘Maybe one day you’ll find a man?’, ‘What you need is a man’, ‘Why don’t you give men any opportunity to approach you?’

As ‘Mum’s the word’ goes into its second page, the contradictions grow more intense, many of them inside one line:

You can’t stay here.         You have to go.
[ ...]
I’m very worried about you.          I’m not worried about you.
[ ... ]
No, oh right, but no.

Even ‘Happy Christmas’, when it arrives, feels like a contradiction in terms. The mixed messages are half-amusing, half-scary. One’ s sympathy is with the daughter. ‘Mum’s the word’ begins in the middle of the book and is central to everything. People don’t necessarily do what their mothers say.

But sometimes they do. One of the mother’s statements is ‘You want to write, right, people write’. The tone there seems doubtful, even querulous.

But by the last line of the poem, which is the shortest, it has turned into a clear imperative:

Then write.

And so she has.

Helena Nelson