The Tiny Talent, Joan Ure

Brae Editions, 2018  £7.99

Admitting defeat

We live in a world, do we not, where success is, broadly, celebrated? Of course, however, many / most / all of us experience plenty of the Other. Joan Ure gives voice to disappointment, frustration, rage, envy and isolation — uncomfortable emotions — and, by doing so, to me, she opens up things. ‘Ah, at last,’ she writes (in 'Mary'), ‘not afraid of such language!’

Many of these poems are laced with irony. She also, however, writes with disarming frankness. There’s never a moment’s doubt that the feelings she expresses are real:

The need for the ironic manner
cannot be exaggerated.
The pity that this is so
breaks the heart eventually.

As is often the case, the irony and humour help. They help us take in — admit — the more uncomfortable elements. The title poem’s title alone is, to me, a thing of brilliance: what could be better, funnier, more accurate — as expression, or concept?

The struggle the collection traces — centrally, of being a disappointed female playwright in Scotland in the 1960s and 70s — is specific to time and place. The feelings it arouses — ‘I am bloody / lonely alongside you’ (‘To C.K.’) — are much more universal:

Oh it was not — I may say — a difficult talent to hide!
It was very small and quiet and had passed unnoticed
everywhere, because of the — shall I say — noisier,
if not all the time larger, talents about.
   [‘The Tiny Talent’]

Perhaps the saddest thing of all is this (from ‘HEADLINE!’): ‘somehow in the fight / I lost the very loving thing / I had to say’. And ‘ALL I ASK IS FREEDOM / TO BE HEARD.’

One of my favourite poems is a short, simple one (‘from ‘Words and Music’’), where Joan Ure breaks free of her shackles:

And now I go
I sharpen my stainless skates
and I skate wild
on the frozen Yes
of my own joy
my joy, alone.
How about you?

Charlotte Gann