Articles of Twinship by Peter Wallis
Bare Fiction Poetry, 2016 £5.00
The delight of double doubles (Ramona Herdman)
This pamphlet is interesting and accomplished in many ways, but what struck me was the original and somehow deeply pleasing metaphors and similes used throughout to describe the twins (Peter and his identical twin brother John).
This starts in the first lines of the first poem, ‘Born 1954: 1.45 / 1:54 p.m.‘ (even the title has that great playful mirroring of the times of birth), which is a list of various things that could be done in that 9 minutes between the births of the first and second twin. Line 2 mentions ‘peas’ (and of course we think ‘in a pod’, without the poet needing to write that) and then line 3 is ‘or boil two eggs consecutively’, which I think is a great (and comically gruesome) image for two identical babies.
But what I really like is the way that the twins are compared throughout the later poems with words and letters. For example, in ‘Queueing’ ‘the twins are double letters in a class-long word.’ In ‘Crocodile’ they ‘hold hands // like cursive ells.’ In ‘Bookends’ ‘On group photographs / Dad stands a twin at each end / like “bed”.’
And it’s only in typing out those titles that I realise how cleverly they have been chosen – look at those repeating (twin) letters.
I think this conceit works beautifully, particularly as most of the poems are set in the twins’ school days, when they’re first coming across written language. It’s also applied to the other children – cross-legged in assembly they are ‘a floor of anxious ampersands’ and in ‘The Cornishes’ ‘Martin and Marie are twins / like c and k’. And the twins’ big brother is included too, in ‘Andrew’ – ‘together with the twins / like the three ells / in parallel.’
This culminates in the last poem (‘Have you done your homework?’), where the children are asked to collect ‘double double lettered words’ and you get the sense of a lifetime of recognising kinship with words like ‘tattoo, bassoon, buffoon’. I love the way this (and the whole pamphlet) makes me see these patterns I’d never recognised before, like a new kind of synaesthesia.
Nostalgia for twins and school (Helena Nelson)
I’m not one – not a twin – but when you’re at primary school you see them, you marvel, you envy them. What can it be like to be a twin? You wouldn't even need a ‘best friend’. Much later, grown-up and pregnant, you wonder ... what if? And later again, as an aspiring granny, you wonder ... what if?
My dentist has just become father to twins – and immediately I thought – both at the same time – how marvellous! and glory be, how will they cope?
If you are either a twin, or a twin-envier, this is the pamphlet for you. But to be fair anybody can like it; you don’t have to be a dyed-in-the-wool poetry aficionado. There are short bits and funny bits, and hugely nostalgic detail about school way-back-when, and of course this applies to anyone, even a non-twin.
Remember the milk? In its tiny one-third-of-a-pint bottles – it was too warm and made me feel sick – put me off milk for decades. So I’m reading and I’m remembering the milk and the Lanigan twins in my primary class (they were triplets at birth but one died). And here’s that milk, oh joy – as well as a metaphor in the last line that produced one great big grin in this reader:
We’re on the floor.
My paper straw is mush.
A monitor lugs in
of little ruptured diaphragms.
This is the sort of collection of poems you want to quote all over the place because there are so many good bits, and funny bits. But you should read it for yourself. There’s knitting, too in ‘In round through off’:
Little Miss Shipley taught us to knit.
Goodness knows how she did it. Over thirty (seven-year-olds)
at desks in rows, side by side like human stitches.
How can you not want to read the rest of this? In round through off. Today I needed this poem.