Martin Figura – Shed, with illustrations by Natty Peterkin
Gatehouse Press, 2016 £7.50 + postage
‘I am pondering the concept of ‘shedness’ ’ writes Martin Figura in the second stanza of this sequence. At 48 pages it may sound too long for a pamphlet but, pocket-sized and elegant, it feels like a pamphlet. The forty-seven five-line stanzas – thought-sized nuggets, two to a page – develop the idea of how to define something we think we recognise. We all know, don’t we, what a shed is? A shed by any other name would hold as much … as much what? It’s not something we dwell on, much, which is why trying to nail it down – and hammers, nails, wood, tools are part of this – becomes a balancing act between the real and metaphor. A poet’s work-space, in fact.
The shed is visible on Google Earth, is:
a facedown book, wunderkammer,
spider’s web, matryoshka, carapace,
ammonite, a circus, common beetle
in a matchbox, a compendium.
That’s the starting point. The shed provides a private space for the poet to ‘remain watchful’, and share an equal space with a spider (both of them weaving) who is also ‘… awake / to the possibilities of the Unitarian Faith’s / 7th Principle: Respect for the interdependent web / of all existence of which we are a part.’ The shed itself, the physical building, develops its own roles – ‘The shed window / is a magic lantern of flickering terrors.’ ‘The shed / is a creaking landlocked boat.’
It allows the poet to ‘… take my soul from behind its ribs / with a broken hacksaw blade …’ and consider death, and final confession of ‘… all my bodged / and abandoned jobs.’ It contains the pieces of four-by-two that will make his funeral pyre when – and the image of a boat returns – men in greasy overalls push the shed out on to the lake, and his last roll-up ignites the paraffin.
So the concept, the definition, is only a beginning, as individual as our own bodged and abandoned jobs, when ‘… true evil is the disposal of anything, however broken.’
I’m on the side of this sequence. I ought to stop reading it, move on to something else – but not yet.
The artwork, truly beautiful and absorbing, deserves a whole OPOI to itself.
The Title Alone
I haven’t read a pamphlet as exquisite as this for some time. I don't know where to begin to pick just one point of interest. But, needs must. Let’s take the title as a single point.
In Figura’s hands the shed becomes poetry itself – a beautiful, primitive, sacred and (usually) solitary thing. It is also, as poetry/shed fans know very well, that thing that cannot be explained, and skips away from any solid definition. Shed is being. Shed is fear. Shed is secrets. Shed is love, death, life. Shed is just a space full of useless stuff too. As Figura writes, the shed ‘is a facedown book, wunderkammer, / spider’s web, matryoshka, carapace, / ammonite, a circus, common beetle / in a matchbox, a compendium’.
What strikes me most of all is how the shed is a space in which the private thoughts of men are contemplated. It is, after all, a stereotypically masculine/macho space where the hunter-gatherer hones his skills. Shed is a masculine book too, and brilliant because of it. The reader is provided with a setting where splinters, rusted tools and half-used paint cans share space and equal importance with a ‘fearful heart’that ‘flinches like a mouse’.
We live in a world full of men unable to express their shed-ness. A world where our sheds have been replaced by service stations, call centres, online pseudo-experiences. One of the biggest killers of UK men is suicide. Perhaps this would not be such an horrific statistic if we all had Shed in our lives – in one or any of its guises.
Let the title draw you in. The Shed door is open.
Robert M. Francis