Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

Run by HappenStance Press

The Weather Looks Promising, Jo Gibson, The jacket is pale grey, with imagery and lettering in black. The title is on the right of the top half, one word per line in a neat column of lower case. To the left of the print is a handrawn image: the outline of a house, and underneath it a collection of shaded shapes bigger than the house. They could be leaves. The authors names are in alphabetical order, starting on the left in the lower half. They are staggered in a stair case going down towards the right hand corner. The press's logo is centred at the bottom. It is a black oblong with rounded corners, inside which the name of the press appears in white lower case lettering, one word per line to the right. To the left inside the oblong is a shape that could be an eye. Or not!
Ruth Gilchrist, Emma M
øller

Black Agnes Press, 2018    £5.00 

A first line that bites

This is the first publication from a new Scottish imprint based in Dunbar. The three contributors harmonise well, with styles not dissimilar. Emma Møller even has poems in which ‘Ruth’ and ‘Jo’ appear. There’s a feeling of warmth, as though the writers play off each other affectionately. And inside the pages, authorship is indicated by first name only, as though the poets are sisters.

My favourite poems shared a distinguishing factor — an arresting first line, one that made complete sense in itself. For example, Ruth Gilchrist’s ‘In the Springtime’, which opens:

I am to kill you in the springtime,
the instructions are very clear

How could you not want to read on? The same trick (though less violent) works for Jo Gibson in ‘Freuchie’, a village which coincidentally is just down the road from my own home:

Not far from Freuchie we remembered we needed logs.
The stove’s warm heart was cooling.

In both cases that first line has a lovely rhythm. Splendid openings; and what follows does not disappoint.

Emma Møller can do it too. In ‘Pocket Historic’ she examines the contents of the pockets of a particular coat. This is how she begins:

I wore a coat this morning for the first time since late 2011.
Green oilcloth, a sturdy hood and nearly to my knees.

The rhythms are prosy but persuasive. The poet takes her reader through three pages of pockets, and still holds interest.

Emma’s poems about Ruth and Jo have arresting openings (these are their first-line titles): ‘Ruth is nursing a Guinea pig’ and ‘Jo doesn’t wear bright colours’. Of the three, Emma tends to write at greatest length with an emphasis on narrative.

But there are snapshot poems too. I particularly like Ruth’s ‘The Couple’, not least because I feel I have been half of this situation, and not so long ago. I was hooked by the opening statement: ‘Together they approached the checkout.’ The whole seven-line poem is a neatly clever sequence of parallel verbs: ‘He tossed, she tutted / and placed, he snortled’, and so on.

As a debut for a new press, this publication must have worked beautifully in performance on the opening night, full of entertainment and character, with plenty of contrast in tone and content.

Helena Nelson