Brexit Day on the Balmoral Estate, Rory Waterman
Rack Press, 2017 £5.00
Poetry is always making choices about how to deal with where we are now — this year, this month, today: the poem’s wider context. It might want to howl, rant, preach, scream, brandish its agenda; or it could look at the birds and spring flowers in a comforting Fotherington-Thomas way. It could turn confessional, spilling out every limping step of its journey — ah, ‘journey’ — turning geography into therapy. It might bury its head in the sand, ignoring the date and the bigger picture. It wants the best words — so it’s not going to like that mechanical grating crunch in the middle of ‘Brexit’.
But the title of this pamphlet confronts the unpoetic Brexit head-on — and then does what poetry does best: writes slant. None of these nine poems (Rack Press pamphlets are very slender, beautifully so) is directly about the current political debate; it’s only with the date at the end of the final poem (which is also the title poem) that the pamphlet reveals the pain in its heart. Italicised: 24 June 2016. Yes: that date. So what looked like separate poems, poems about individual places, people, travel — Sarajevo, Palma, Basilicata, Venice, avoiding politics in the pre-election USA — suddenly click into place: they connect, they make connections. Waterman is joining up separate loose ends of memory until these make something whole, a world where reaching out to another country — whether as a tourist or to reunite with friends — is taken for granted. Was taken for granted? No, the pamphlet isn’t going to force its opinions on us. It just shows us memory working in other places, not the beauty spots but towns with ‘knackered Mercedes’, ‘an old woman buying cigarettes’, a courtyard ‘where we puzzled at the statue of some bard’, the ghost town where ‘A stretch of rubble, tile, timber straggles down / from a cluster of leering houses, churches, palazzi.’
They find their memorial in this pamphlet which is determined to hold them together. A glancing reference to the political climate is enough: it’s not about Brexit. But it is.