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Luck, Michael Grieve  

HappenStance, 2018 £3.00

Lucky numbers

Michael Grieve’s Luck has the feel of a playing card. It’s tall, narrow — just 13 cm across. An auspicious width.

On the first page, at first glance, there looks to be a sonnet. It’s an apparition. A 13-liner missing its sestet, and hardly formed except for its iambic pentameter eighth line. Luck begins over pints in the pub, with a punter’s tip about how to cheat the one-armed bandit. ‘This one’s on me’ are his parting, metrical words. What follows is the customary stanza break after the octet, but what comes next, in response, is a five-line confession. Luck’s speaker appreciates the cheater’s ‘craftsmanship’ but he’s not interested in ‘such honest deceptions’, nor in winning.

Who wouldn’t want to win? Grieve gives us a mystery. I’m hooked.

On page 10 the almost-sonnet returns, with company. Four of them on the trot, a page a piece. 4 x 13 = 52. A deck of luck. Part gambler’s biography, part maths miracle, the poems immerse us in a story of numbers that become irresistible.

By page 12 I’m ready to shuffle some cards.

I’d not imagined there might be reward (beyond cash) in games of chance. Grieve’s poems move through moments of narration, reflection and instruction to reveal that luck is also a matter of aesthetics. The pull isn’t money. It’s the beauty of not knowing how things will end — the possibility of dazzlingly complex one-offs, such as ‘the newly shuffled World-First in your hand’.

Luck’s 124 lines break on some fine end-words. From page 9, for example:An oblong cream jacket, black text centred. The author's name first in lowercase italics, then the title in large caps, the K having a fancy swash. A line drawing below this of two magician's hands, one holding a wand, the other clutching fingers over some secret about to be revealed.

won / dogs / nothing / in / Blackjack / transparency / spins

This abstracted version of playing the odds evokes unease. Luck gets dangerous. Grieve’s lines nudge at what luck means — the thrill and the thrall. Reminiscing about a winning streak, the narrator reflects ‘why bother leaving the house?’. Later, when luck has done its work:                                               

                                           [ ...] The distance
between everything became the distance
between two sides of a card.

What a stunning, claustrophobia-inducing image. This is your brain on luck.

Luck ends where it begins. Its final six musically lovely lines surprise all the way to the very last word. 

Lois Williams

[See also Charlotte Gann’s review of Joan Lennon’s Granny Garbage and Michael Grieve’s Luck]