Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

Run by HappenStance Press

Natalie Scott – Frayed

Indigo Dreams, 2016  £6.00Peach coloured background on the jacket. A painting of a red rose lies across it, in a diagonal with the stalk towards the bottom corner. Two of the peals seem to be tacked together and even the red is a bit smudged. In the bottom third, to the left, is the title in a handwriting style of lower case, and below that name of author, smaller, in the same typeface. The pamphlet has a purple stripe across the bottom (an indigo stripe?) with the logo and title of the publisher, Indigo Dreams.

Unhinged

The title of this pamphlet, together with the illustration of a rose with a tear in the petals unevenly tacked together, suggests poems written out of a situation of personal stress. And indeed some of the contents rehearse the end of a relationship, sometimes with grim humour, and sometimes just grimly.

The poems that most interest me are the ones where the central character seems to have come unhinged. ‘Frayed’ is starting to look like an understatement. ‘Clean and Tidy’ plays its little game of answering one question six times – and does it beautifully. I won’t quote it because I will spoil it, but the question is ‘When did you realise you had a problem?’ It cuts straight to the bone.

‘Seven’ is very interesting too. It rehearses obsessive compulsive counting patterns, with seven lines in each stanza and seven syllables in every line. As the poem goes on, one can see the ritual counting interfering with ordinary processes more and more:

Seven sweeps of the milk brush
and the pastry sags soggy.
Undercook and overcook
based on denominations
of times and temperatures
baked for twenty-one minutes
divided into seven.

The end is beautifully handled and profoundly ominous:

The Bible speaks in sevens.
My mother speaks in sevens.
My doctor speaks in sevens.

This is, of course, not a joke – anything but, and ‘O.C.D’ deals with the issue directly through allowing the speaking voice to deny there is a mental health problem while illustrating that very problem in action. For me, this poem went on one stanza too long, but perhaps that, too, could be attributed to an obsessive compulsive desire to over-explain.

Perhaps it’s the same unhinged person whose relationship with herself in the mirror in ‘Reflection’ causes such problems, and such strange behaviour. The observation is carefully, chillingly handled.

But ‘Clean and Tidy’ is my favourite. I won’t forget it.

Helena Nelson