Widowland — Pamela Manché PearceThe cover holds a large murky picture, perhaps a painting, of a wood at night, with a full moon and moonlight seeping through the trees into a sort of blur in the foreground. The title is centred about two thirds down and is in sans serif caps, white. Not huge but big enough to occupy most of the width of the pamphlet which is a little taller and thinner than A5 by the look of it. The author's name is in white lower case font below this, quite a bit smaller. No other text on the cover.

Green Bottle Press, 2018     £6.00

Why this one and not that?

When we pick up a pamphlet, how do we come to the decision to purchase — or not?

The cover of Pamela Manché Pearce’s Widowland pulls no punches: moody blues, an obscured moon. The back cover offers an interesting face and then the eye catches the blurb: ‘a heartfelt and sometimes searing account [ … ] death of her husband’.

I might have stopped there and put it back on the shelf, since I and my beloved husband of only thirteen years are both in our eighth decade, and the near future haunts us more than a little.

But in the contents I glimpsed a poem called ‘Pantoum’. This hooked me in because I recently enjoyed writing one myself. Pamela Manché Pearce uses the forceful effect of a pantoum’s repetition to underline the relentless nature of the suffering she endured during her husband’s lingering death.

I could have stopped there. If in one poem she was so good on this excruciating experience, could I bear to read more? But the strength and honesty of this (previously unknown to me) poet’s writing welcomed me in, and I shut the door on the world for an hour and read on.

Why do we pick up one pamphlet and not another? Why do we open one to read a sample and discard another without opening it at all (based merely on a glance at front and back)?

These are questions to which all publishers must want the answer. With its explicit title and blurb, the London publishers of this American poet took a risk. If you were recently widowed or bereaved would you — could you — read it? 

However, we browsers of pamphlets and readers of contemporary poetry expect poems to be multi-dimensional. We anticipate a collection diverse in content and varied in imagery and mood.

On this score Widowland does not disappoint. As well as grief, the writer explores sources of resilience, expectations for the future and her joy in small things, as in ‘Moment’:

How do I nail this morning forever?
Can I go again? How many more times
will I be invited to this show?

Mary Thomson