The Withering Room, Sarah Sibley
Green Bottle Press, 2015 £6.00
The role of the back cover blurb
This pamphlet has a riveting title, reinforced by what to me was a brilliant cover image – it looks like a sort of fabric, or possibly wallpaper, with a creeping splurge of mould or something brownish. The design beneath is blue with elaborate, old-style curlicues in a symmetrical pattern. The damaged part has developed its own design, not at all symmetrical and somewhat odd. Slightly disconcerting and a tad creepy.
The title poem is also creepy: a powerful piece, ghostly and haunted, a sort of narrative, and the longest text in the collection. None of the poems here extend over more than one page (fourteen of the twenty poems are twelve lines or shorter) and their content is quite fragmentary – who? where? what? I had some difficulty at first making a kind of thread that would carry me through the whole. The back cover quotation from Paul Farley says:
Sarah Sibley’s poems crackle with the static of absences and half-known things, set in an English village haunted by the cultural flotsam and jetsam of the age.
It hadn’t occurred to me that all the poems might occupy the same physical setting – the same village. After that, even the slighter texts started to acquire a different kind of interest, even though it wouldn’t have occurred to me they were in the same place without this tip from Farley, and I’m still not totally sure it applies to them all. Is ‘A Nursing Home by the Sea’ in the same village as ‘The Haunted Man’ who has been running through ‘miles of woodland’?
But I like the idea of a set of poems connected by place. I even like the idea of that being true and still unstated, though one does need some kind of a hint. Essentially, this set, to me, is mysterious: elusive fragments in a maybe landscape, with some lovely phrasing and sensory imagery. Here’s a taste of that from ‘Cabin Fever’:
Beyond a crooked lattice window
you play whist alone;
a glass of Piesporter each
for the phantom players. Tall flames –
the woodburner sputters over a filthy rug;
there’s a thick smell of stupefied sleep.