Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

Run by HappenStance Press

Typhoid August, Sarah Fletcher

Smith Doorstop, 2018  £5.00

‘Word left my mouth in odd shapes’

The poems in this pamphlet drip with the unhappiness of dysfunctional relationships. Things are wrong left right and centre. There are marriages that shouldn’t be happening, and cross-generational and adulterous encounters. Sex and cruelty seep through everything. It’s powerful stuff, concentrated, then bottled into poem-vessels.

Have, John, you heard these days whether she’s chaste?
— She certainly has run herself into
a corner, pet.

Those are the opening lines of the pamphlet, and then, two lines later, ‘I saw the streetlight / prismed through their kiss.’ There are recurring and multiple love triangles. In ‘Cordelia’, the narrator describes the poem’s subject: ‘Her voice is a wire coat-hanger     I hang what I want on it’. Later, ‘she tells me what sex with my boyfriend is like’.

In ‘Christina Crashes The Wedding’, the gatecrasher ‘is invited because she’d be noticed more by her absence’. Boundaries are not well-set:

She is calling my name      but the Ministry told me mishearings
are to be expected    from a bride of my unusually young age

The final line of ‘For Courtney Stodden’ ends on a damning trio:

It is black           It is unforgiving         It is total

Strong images billow out from these often oddly-shaped poems. This, from ‘Blue & Typhoid Mary (I)’: 

I can tell he loves Mary with a love that’s no one’s fault    though he buys me
gin and crawls around the word divorce     like flies on mildewed bread
His smile billows like the white sail of a ship when I say I’ve heard
she misses him

And there’s a flush rising through the words that suffuses like shame: ‘the vessel of a dark wave breaking / into shivers, a regime of pain cocooning // into your person’ (‘Worthy’).

I found the sequence immersive and powerful.

Charlotte Gann