Dragonish, Emma Simon
The Emma Press, 2017 £6.50
Shock and awe as an antidote to complacency
Each poem in this pamphlet creates a surreal world in which shocking things can happen. The author voice is invariably authoritative and even empathic, but in every poem the approach differs.
The collection opens with ‘The Parts of Ourselves We Leave With Former Lovers’, in which the compassionate voice of the Madame in a French Bordello comforts one of the new girls after she has received the grisly gift of a severed ear:
Let’s wrap it back up
in the cloth — carefully — not to disturb the perfect whorl,
or pattern of the blood stippled on the lobe.
‘Such trinkets’ from men who ‘see the world in strange shadows’ are kept in drawers where they tap against the wood like ‘palsied bluebottles’.
Severed limbs feature in other poems. In ‘Penknife’, for example, a man saws off his own arm. In ‘Afterwards’, ‘bloody angels’ fill the house with their lazy ways. In ‘The Circus of Possibilities’, a young office temp imagines she could ‘wake to the stink of axle grease and toffee apples’ in a circus in the Ukraine — if only Mr Simpkins would run away with her.
The word ‘dragonish’ comes from Anthony and Cleopatra Act 4 Scene 14. Anthony sees ‘a cloud that’s dragonish’, a portent of death. In the title poem here, it’s night but dragons ‘write disaster’ across the sky. In the ‘orange flame’ that sweeps the bedroom, ‘you’ see the face of your lover in the body of an older person — and then:
Just watch the second skin of clothes
you shed, slung on a chair, burn with the rage of it
The poem ends with the tempting but ironic suggestion:
let’s kid ourselves it’s airport holding patterns
or the metallic screech of distant trains.
These are poems about ordinary things — loss, change, the passage of time — shown in most extraordinary ways. They expose the cruelty within the human condition and challenge our tendency not to want to know about it.
They are not easy to forget.