Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

Run by HappenStance Press

The jacket is bright blue, with no images. The title is in very large lower-case, pale orange letters, one word per line in the top third. All lettering is centred. Below the title in tiny white italics the word 'poems'. Below this the author's name in somewhat larger lower case white letters. At the foot of the jacket is the series title in very small white lowercase letters: A Fool for Poetry Chapbook. Below this is the publisher's logo which is a round white circle with a tiny V below it.Assembly Instructions, Katie Hale

Southword Editions, 2019   €6.00 (€8.00 shipped outside Ireland)

Haunting memories

Katie Hale’s delicious pamphlet draws on a colourful past, from a difficult birth (‘I Was Born in the Morning’) to catching fish as a child (‘Fish’).  I particularly liked the early encounter with a boy in ‘Free Period Behind the Bowling Hut’:

His mouth encloses hers like a bell jar.
His probing tongue renders
the taste of salt and vinegar crisps
and cold metal.

Later:

He pushes into her bra, slides
his cold hand slack as river mud
around her nipple. In the polyester
rub of his blazer, she wonders

whether she wants this.

In the aftermath, a fortnight later, the bowling hut burns down.

‘Peggy Wood’ tells us about the invisible sister of the dedication — ‘for the sister I never had’ — who keeps the narrator company with an unwelcome grip. We are taken into Peggy Wood where Peggy is alleged, by the big boys, to have ‘hooked herself / to a high branch’. The narrator has gone to the wood

because it is the only place to come for miles
where I can let my words
sound out like a crunched leaf,

because my sister is a tight band
around my chest

The sister ‘settles’ in the narrator’s head ‘like fermenting leaves’, warning it is ‘dangerous to be a girl alone at night’. This prompts the plaintive response:

  […] I am not
alone, I am
never alone, why won’t
you leave me
alone?

Other poems deal with later memories. The delightful sonnet ‘Thaw’ takes us through the inevitability of the ending of a relationship:

All through the winter she lay beside me,
cool hands mapping my body, her breath
an owl’s wing

But as the snow starts to melt:

               […] Through the dark, I could see
the cold mirror of the morning, when I would wake
to emptiness, a crumple of sheets, the snow
sinking back into the mountainside as water.

There is so much more to this hugely enjoyable pamphlet, with its varied and often poignant memories.

Rennie Halstead