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Granny Garbage, Joan Lennon; and Luck, Michael Grieve

HappenStance, 2018  £3.00 each

Roulette of trust

So, HappenStance has just published these two new ‘story poems’: longish poems — short pamphlet length — each telling its own magical story. I can’t help noticing, though, each also tells that story very much from one single point of view: that of its particular narrator. Frankly I’m not sure either is what you might call reliable!

Of course, this is part of the fun: in both cases, after a wee tour of their worlds, I emerge a little ruffled, uncertain, unsettled. Knowing a bit of what it’s like inside Granny Garbage’s world — in her house, and company. Knowing a little of what I’m told it’s like to win win win, in Luck (and how exhausting):

You see, the thrill’s in waiting,
not in winning; in seeing if the streak
will break and, when it doesn’t, choking backIvory cover with black lettering and an image of two hands with frilly cuffs, one holding a magic wand
a fist of blueys to see the sunshine out.

But I only know those details these narrators have chosen to show me. I’ll need to loop back. Check again through the scattered clues.… And in both cases, of course, the unsettling atmosphere is supplied (almost) entirely by the dance of slippery language. That’s language’s gift and curse: to give, and enlighten; to withhold, and to frighten!

Certainly both narrators have more than their share of fairytale crookedness. In Luck, games are played ‘as if the cards / were see-through’. And Granny G’s sweet reasonings only go so far to reassure:

You’ll have heard that if there’s something
you want — something
you need — something
from Before — then chances are
I’ve got it, somewhere in my lovely jam-packed rooms.

Hm, sounds all right… (a lovely, old granny, with ‘jam-packed rooms’: what’s not to like?) But is it? And, ‘Before’ what?

‘Well, I think you may be in luck’, she also says. In luck? We’ll have to see. Luck, after all, can be its own ‘mirror / in a mirror’, as Luck’s narrator at one point mentions.

Winning is a complicated game, and not always quite what it seems — as we might be unlucky enough to discover.

Charlotte Gann

Granny or Garbage?

This poem tells a story of futuristic times after a presumed catastrophe. The central character is a ‘dirty hoarder’who has become a ‘Dragon Lady’, a keeper of ‘treasure’.

The real status of the old woman is unknown but her social rise is hinted at. The clues are indistinct, but deliciously ambiguous enough for one to be able to debate the issue: is she Lady Gran or Garbage Dragon?

The reader learns that a handsome couple, together with their two sons and one daughter, have arrived to barter for things, some wanted, some needed, from Granny’s ‘lovely jam-packed rooms’. 

Granny asserts there’s ‘not a mark’ on any of the children, although the boys are fed whereas the girl is Ivory cover with black lettering and a spooky image of a face in a shadowy window‘scrimped’and in my book, that’s a mark. A mark that’s been used throughout history, signed in a slash of paint or on a slip of paper smeared with glue and slapped on to the skin of a woman at a sale.

As the symbol on a paper tells vendor’s price so this ‘scrimped’ girl-child’s appearance tells her low price despite the gloom. Already reduced, she intuits her value as things on the list are picked and gathered.

Granny does not leaveher own treasure unprotected from meddlers. No candlelight will scorch her things.  But when the daughter of this ‘fine family’ shrinks back from Granny’s proffered hand, no corresponding hand comes from her parents to protect or claim her. In this way the contract is sealed and her fate becomes a done deal.

The making of a slave is the forced separation of the individual from her progenitors. Granny? or Garbage? I don’t think that’s the real question any more.  What say you?

Jane Freer