Cherry Blossom, Derek Parkes
Red Squirrel Press, 2019 £6.00
Stings in the tail
The poems in Derek Parkes’ recent pamphlet linger in the mind like personalised messages from an empathetic friend. His subjects are in themselves mundane, but treated with respect and a wry humour that recognises life is a comedy, not a tragedy. He leaves us with the feelings evoked by honestly shared experience, feelings often confirmed by skilful last lines with tragi-comic stings in the tail.
Even in ‘Dead’, a poem that tells us he felt nothing in the presence of his father’s body (‘but I could not cry over this empty shell. / This wasn’t my dad), it is in the last line that he gently punches us in the gut:
We only see human spirit when it’s not there anymore.
Likewise in ‘Black Tie’, he recounts the occasions on which he has worn one, and just as we are enjoying the narrative thread he has been weaving, he brings us up sharp to
Now it adorns my tie rack
slowly moving to the front as I age
and death becomes part of life.
But death doesn’t dominate this nicely judged selection box. The poet is much more likely to amuse in his vignette-like observations. In ‘Pimms No 1’, for example, he builds our expectation that a drink is going to lead to trouble by the words ‘The girls were away for the weekend’ spaced suggestively, staggering down the page, before the killer last line: ‘I never drank its like again’.
Derek Parkes’ previous life as a writer of short stories is evident throughout, but particularly in the title poem ‘Cherry Blossom’. The smell of shoe polish leads him to sketch a moment on a Sunday morning — a moment of family life as if remembered by his teenage self. His young self observes, his mature self records in lines of unstated understanding. It reads like a Vanitas, a still life painting which means more than it portrays; like these poems.