The Sleeping House, Daniel Rattelle
Eyewear Publishing, 2018 £6.00
At first I bristled at this. Typographically a ‘counter’ is the enclosed hole in a letter — letters like o, b, p, d etc. If you ever had a John Bull Printing Outfit, you’ll remember how quickly these holes filled with ink and had to be unclogged with a pin. Slow and messy work but if you failed to do it, the letters came out solid black with the holes filled in — like the R and P on the cover of Rattelle’s pamphlet. The opening epigraph to this collection (from E M Forster’s Howards End) had all its letter counters filled. It didn’t feel like a promising start.
Then I relaxed a bit. After all, it was only the poem titles that had filled counters; the main text was ‘normal’, in a traditional font. Also, the visual connection to an older, slower way of printing acquired something of a rationale as Rattelle unfolded his elegiac poems of rural Massachusetts, his slowing down of time, his memories of older people and community life.
Unsentimental, honest enough to admit to the number of beer cans that fuel his poems, Rattelle has an easy way with rhyme and form. This, too, looks back to what is of value in earlier poetic style.
There are echoes of Robert Frost in the way due time is given to each word, each movement, as in ‘Forest Scenes’ —
I stood and paused where I could have used a sled,
Where trees got thick and snow evaded spring.
I took a step onto the crust, wondering
(With Schumann’s Waldszenen stuck in my head)
Who made these ghosts of cross-country tracks.
It must be months ago; before the thaw.
And there is a direct homage in ‘Crossing Hyla Brook’, which is explicitly ‘after Robert Frost’:
Well I’ll be damned, the old man had it right.
An August day (I should have seen the signs),
And his beloved brook was really just a slight
And slender streak across the path.
All this was a lesson in not judging a book by its cover, or its quirky way with typeface.
D A Prince