Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

Run by HappenStance Press

Family Division, Anne BallardA very plain blue jacket, thin paper (you can faintly see print showing through from the other side. The pamphlet title is in very large bold lowercase, one word per line with Division beginning under the 'l' of Family. Below this 'by' very small and below that, centred, the author's name quite small. There is a logo below this (all text in black) and the imprint name centred very small at the bottom.

RQpoetry pamphlets 2, 2015  
Rafael Q Publishers: 5 Brookside Road, London NW11

Painful repetitions

The title of this pamphlet sounds legalistic, and it should. It openly refers to the Family Division of the High Court, and the author is a solicitor as well as a poet.

So these poems draw on real experience (albeit fictionalised) and often draw on the type of knotty problems that get human relationships into court. Some pieces here are handled from the point of view of one of the litigants; others from the perspective of the lawyer. There’s frustration, and pain, and grim irony, to much of which most readers will easily (and sometimes painfully) relate. In ‘Judgement’, for example, a child is removed from his family:

The judge leaves the court quickly
to escape their sobs.
We, less privileged, stay
huddled, reassuring each other,
to mop up the consequences
of our necessary action.

I am not fond of villanelles but here the form comes into its own. Its relentless repetition forcefully drives home the idea of inevitability. For example, in ‘Secure Accommodation Order’, the opening line is:

We asked her not to run. She said she would.

You know what will follow. You are right. And the awfulness of it (in this case for a young person) is reinforced by the hollowly repeating form.

This kind of repetition works, too, in the sinister poem titled ‘Night Rider’. Here two young girls, runaways, meet their fate:

From Edmonton to Leister Square
at night the bus goes all the way:
top deck, back row, he’s waiting there.

Even that casual phrase ‘goes all the way’ echoes ominously, rhyming through the poem with ‘away’, ‘yesterday’, ‘Holloway’, ‘stay’ and (horribly) ‘play’.

In real life, we repeat mistakes all too predictably. These poems capture that reality with haunting resonance.

In ‘Dividing the Spoils’, the voice of reason and counter-argument is drowned out by the repeating line that starts the poem and ends it: ‘She wants the house’ — ‘never mind he’s facing redundancy’, ‘never mind that the neighbours all blame her’, ‘never mind [ ...] the confused children’ —

or that each mirror throws back his memory
distorting her image
into the mark of a Gorgon.

She wants the house.

I know this woman. I ache for her.

Helena Nelson