The Days That Followed Paris, Paul Stephenson
HappenStance Press, 2016 £5.00
There are, of course, some things that are very difficult to talk about. There are things we do not speak about; and others where we may all clamour – these days, not least, on social media – until our ‘talking’ seems more like something else. A way to stop listening, perhaps? To stop letting anything more – anyone – in?
In this pamphlet, The Days That Followed Paris, Paul Stephenson seems to me to speak for an alternative.
People do sometimes talk of poetry as containment; of poems as containers. These poems hold their subjects quietly – in keeping with a cover image that’s quiet too: of two chairs standing side by side; a peaceful image, one of dialogue, as Paul himself observed in his blog:
Two chairs. Two people. A conversation. Like the left-hand page and the right-hand page of the pamphlet. A poem on each page.
The poems on these pages are also quiet, and contained in a way I think helps. They’re neat on the page, very calm, often rhymed. The care with which each word has been chosen and placed sings out. Care is a thing.
Some are in concrete shapes – for instance, ‘Blindfold’. Such a beautiful poem, describing one act of love and defiance: an act – and poem – about trust. There are containers within containers: Paul Stephenson has boxed on the page (and centred, as for the rest of this poem) the words this one man, in making his own brave gesture, had written on ‘two cardboard signs’: ‘I am a Muslim / and they say / I am a terrorist’; ‘I trust you / Do you trust me? / If yes, HUG me!’ And then of course there’s the holding of all the hugs that follow:
Young men in baseball caps, old men balding.
Women who could be his mother, bawling.
Is there a safe place for quiet observation – even in this devastating world? A place where we might look carefully, both around us, and at ourselves?