Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

Run by HappenStance Press

Raft, Anne GillThe jacket is black (as are all Bad Betty's current pamphlets). Thee title appears centred at the top in small childlike letters, lowercase, and the letters spaced far apart. The author's name is the most eye-catching part of the cover. If is roughly in the middle of the jacket in giant caps, an arty font with hugely thick bars. The 'I' of Gill is a penguin. There are some little circles in white that could be bubbles (not many) and something that could be a birds footprint near the bottom. All lettering is white.

Bad Betty Press, 2019  £6.00

Survival

There are two lines in the poem ‘Playground Games’ that stick in my mind:

His son would be better
off without him.

They are memorable because they are crossed out — but still there. The poem is short and poignant. It would be unlikely to appear in its own right in a magazine, but fits perfectly into this sequence charting a desperate journey triggered by trauma. The setting is the time, as the title Raft suggests, between foundering and reaching land, if ever that happens.

There is the hope of a safe conclusion in ‘Bluebells’, the final poem, but no guarantee:

[ … ] you want the doctors to believe you
when you say you’re unwell; you’re so terrified of the scales
in your house and the pills you’re studiously not counting
and you just want the cows to chew. To allow you to nestle into them
for a moment. To tell you that you’re here.

The trauma was rape.  Apparently, as part of his therapy, ‘Penguin 2 Is Told to Write a Gratitude Journal’. (The ‘Penguin 2’ soubriquet is explained elsewhere.) Unsurprisingly, the poem starts somewhat caustically: ‘I saw a cow / out of everyone else the cow chose to chase me out of everyone else the cow chased me and gave me free cardio’. 

But it ends: ‘I am grateful that I can’t stop remembering the rape at the time of the rape I was wearing old clothes I am grateful I was probably going to throw them out anyway … and I am grateful he didn’t kill me and I am grateful it only happened once and I am grateful it didn’t happen to my son I am grateful that it didn’t happen to my son I am so grateful that it didn’t happen to my son.’

The long lines, the lack of punctuation, the breathless repetition (that last phrase added to slightly each time) feel all too appropriate.

And I myself am grateful (a) that I have never felt impelled to write such poetry and (b) that I have read these. I might even be a slightly better person as a result.

Rob Lock