Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

Run by HappenStance Press

How to Wear Grunge, Ruth StaceyThis is very large pamphlet, about double the usual size. The jacket is in full colour and shows a photoshopped picture of a woman with long red hair. She is looking down from the left of the jacket to the right hand corner. Her expression is beautiful and sad. She has a white flower behind her ear and is wearing a multicoloured garment. The colours around her head are streaked into a kind of halo effect. The title is printed in large sans serif caps in a white band on the left hand side. The lettering runs vertically from bottom to top. The author's name is in rather larger white caps on the right hand side of the jacket, running horizontally right at the foot of the page.

Knives Forks And Spoons Press, 2018  £7.00

Giving the reader a share in the story

Ruth Stacey’s understanding of how a reader might read a narrative sequence — asking questions, interrupting, arguing with the poet — underpins this pamphlet. The narrative sequence is challenging; it’s fractured, post-modern, unreliable. The context is unfamiliar too, unless you already know the punk music scene in 1980’s Seattle, specifically The Gits, and singer Mia Zapata (murdered in 1993). Stacey’s poems offer a twenty-first century parallel to this world via followers who adopt punk style.

In the five-line opening poem (‘First Seen Following a Link Online’), we get a first glimpse of the protagonist: ‘[…] beauty even if the subject is long dead: here/ she is staring out of the monitor.’ Then there’s a three-line space and the italicised question ‘Who was she?

That’s my question too.

The third piece, a prose poem titled ‘Who Was She?’, is followed by a double question:

Continue to find out who she was?

Respect a dead person and don’t pry?

Just what I was thinking. It’s as though Stacey stands back from her poems to share the reader’s line of thought. She’s aware this is the tipping point for the pamphlet: will the reader abandon puzzling out the story? Or push on, despite qualms?

Turn the page and ‘Her Name’ provides some answers. She is Carey Hunter, aged 20, ‘Eyes: Fox-coloured. I’m certain, fox-russet, copper.’ But her address is no more than ‘Somewhere familiar, cold snap in the air, city buzzing’, and beneath the poem the italics of the reader still niggle:

Was any of that true? (Be cynical, doubt the stories.)

We’re in a triangle: poet, protagonist, reader. Or: the page, the story, the questions. It’s a pamphlet in three dimensions. This structure allows the reader to argue and criticise and demand answers (‘Who are you talking about: tell me the real truth!’).

By anticipating the reader’s quizzical response, Ruth Stacey holds attention because that attention is an integral part of the poem.‘Such a waste, she was too young to be wasted,’ says the reader, nearing the final poem.

Yes, I am drawn in.

D A Prince