No Theory of Everything, Martin Zarrop
Cinnamon Press, 2015 £4.99
No safe return
What caught my attention was the shadows. Often the form and tone of the poem seems cheery enough, but a single detail turns everything inside out. It might be the title, as in ‘The Coffin Maker’ or the last line in ‘Myth’ (‘savour every lie’). In ‘Coats’, the poem seems comfortably nostalgic (‘Arm in arm we braved the town drunks’) right up to the last two lines: ‘We ate pizza, savoured red wine / ran out of evenings’.
There’s a sort of imperative here, a veiled threat. But this doesn’t create a sense of inexorable doom so much as clarity about the present moment. A subtle way, perhaps, of doing the carpe diem thing. In ‘Dung Beetle:
Time runs like sand.
The day burns on
and true love beckons.
Hurry. Hurry. The camel
may not pass this way again.
Behind many of the poems, memories of the violent past flicker like old news reel. Terrible things have happened. You can hide from the facts, but they don’t go away.
This is beautifully caught in ‘Moving Pictures’, dated May 1945. The poet, a small boy, is in the cinema waiting for his heroes: Gary Cooper, perhaps, or Ronald Colman. Instead, there’s a scrap of news footage, glimpsed ‘through cracks in an adult wall’, and this is what the child sees:
I see the cock crow its news, hear
the clipped voice as cameras pan
slow as ice across an open pit
of broken extras, jumbled
contortions of skin and bone, stick
origami folded by bulldozers.
In black and white a woman weeps,
Men stare, stone-grey into the winter soil.
His mother pulls his head into her lap, so he won’t see. And then there's the final, beautifully expressed irony:
for the main feature,
the safe return
in glorious Technicolor
of the real world,
Ronald Colman to Shangri-La.
It's the sort of memory the poet can't ever forget. Having read this poem, neither can I.