Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

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Bookshop: poetry section: shelf: I’m looking for something I know nothing about, flick on past this spine and the next, the one after that until Invisibility for Beginners suggests complexity. Intrigued, I ease the volume from its neighbours, feel its cover and weight, then enjoying the not-understanding, turn the first page. The title’s invited me in.

Excited to read the contents list. Shall I choose ‘Moon’ or ‘Thaw’ or maybe a longer title like ‘The First Dream Tax Inspector’ or ‘A Terrible Hardness’?

The latter fits my mood, yet I find no hardness here: ‘Taking your pulpy arm to steer you / is like putting my hand into running water’.  So the titles oppose? Is this their way? I try the concluding poem, ‘Thaw’ (which in the original is fully justified in layout):

And so it was that the manically depressed iceberg had
managed to empty the North Atlantic Bar for the third night
in a row, having bored the local clientele – seals, mostly –
with tales of his disastrous former life.

I’m in. Want more of these playful associations. Take ‘Your Mind’ –  two straightforward downright words that lead to a delicate goldfish decline:

Eventually the water clouds and stinks
until finally there’s just its dull, listless eyes
and slack lips mouthing at the glass

‘Oedipus Complex’ is a mite too obvious, stamping its authority on the poem, leaving less space for meaning to develop. Yet on the whole there’s lively contrast in this collection: fine, bubbly balance between each title and its poem, as in ‘Familiar’ which leads the reader towards a sultry unfamiliar:

[ ...] here you lie,
pelt cheek cupped to my belly, silk ear
sounding for the root of my voice

When writing myself, titles often come to me as afterthoughts. Some never feel ‘right’, as if masking a perfect alternative. Others sulk, as in ‘this will have to do’, or ‘it doesn’t matter what the hell you call me’. But a few hang on for dear life, refuse to transform. Occasionally, one lands with grace, sings to a poem, remains.

As with Pizzey’s ‘Hush Now’ for a drowning: ‘No point in struggling: there is only now, / this moment; waiting for what has already taken place.’

Elaine Beckett