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Disappointing Alice, Rachel Piercey

HappenStance Press, 2019   £5.00

When is a pamphlet like a door?

Disappointing Alice is both a door thrown open in welcome, and a door thrown open to gleefully eject. Piercey stands hailing you from the doorway. ‘Come’ she says in her opening line. It’s an invitation to enter, to pay attention, to make yourself at home.

This invitation is extended throughout the pamphlet with ‘come’ used repeatedly, though its precise meaning shifts — come towards, come about, come undone.

In ‘Song for Amelia’, for example, each stanza begins with an imperative ‘Come in’ (in the sense of ‘respond’), with Amelia Earhart’s first plane, Canary, calling out to her last: ‘Come in, Electra. Come in, Electra.’

In ‘Richmond Park Pastoralises Rachel Piercey’, the park itself exclaims ‘Come live with us [...] O Rachel come’. And in ‘Deep in the Desert’, the poem’s subject, Alice, writes ‘Please come [...] please come’.

Considering the pamphlet’s title, I wondered at this point who Alice might be? Inevitably I turned to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: the eat me/drink me scene with the little door, and Alice’s elbow jammed against the White Rabbit’s front door. In Carroll’s story, Alice sighs ‘Everybody says Come on!’ Indeed, she says it frequently herself — ‘Come, we shall have some fun’; ‘Come, there’s no use in crying’; ‘Come, my head’s free at last!’The jacket is cream with graphic and print in black. The main graphic is centred in the lower two thirds of the jacket. It shows a pen drawing of a courtly lady wearing one of those long cone shaped hats that trails a scarf behind it. She is seen in profile with a rather elegant face and a nose at a slightly superior angle. Her right hand is placed on her waist. IN the top quarter the title of the pamphlet appears on two lines in small caps. Below this and just above the point of the lady's hat, is the name of the author in fairly small italics. The imprint name appears in very small caps at the foot of the jacket.

Thinking about Wonderland’s world of doors, keys and thresholds, and the importance of these same images in Piercey’s collection, I found ‘Lost Key’ unsettling. This poem begins ‘You have to trust / the locksmith’ and continues

   It sticks in your throat
as he coaxes the lock,
 
how such a trivial loss
   can mean this threshold
      is not yours.

Look how the locksmith
is calmly captaining the door

In fact, there’s an intriguing emphasis on captains in this beguiling pamphlet. Chivalrous ideas of being carried over a threshold sit alongside the need to captain one’s own ship. Given this tension, the choice of final poem delighted me. Here, in contrast to the unguarded welcome of the opening poem, we’re left with the image of the poet poised with ‘one hand upon the latch’ and ‘one hand upon the axe.’

Come in if you dare.

Ruth Wiggins