Oh Be Quiet, Natalie Shaw
Against the Grain Poetry Press, 2020 £6.00
Pamphlet as box
There’s a poem in here called ‘Reality box’. That box contains — consumes — all the worst things that could ever happen: ‘There is nothing it turns away / My children’s terrible deaths / The plane collapsing through the sky’. And inside it, the poet also seems trapped:
Everything’s muffled: my exploding heart
my exploding head
The box has it all
There are all sorts of worrying things in the world of this pamphlet that need containing. And there are times when they are not contained (except of course, they are — because they’re held in the poems). In the opening piece, the title breaks into the body:
I know you only invited me in for a coffee, but
I have eaten your house
In a deadpan tone it goes on to explain: ‘I ate your 4x4 too’; ‘How will you drive the streets of Muswell Hill now?’
Another poem, ‘Things that I say to my enemy’, catalogues a gaslighter’s account:
I ask her a question I know she can’t answer, I snub her
at parties, I steal her ideas; I pretend I can’t hear her
These are poems that break down social mores, and barriers — while maybe shedding light on why we have them. ‘Self-portrait as apple tree’ starts:
I’m so espalier.
Don’t mess with me, I’ve had years of training.
What’s behind that wall you might ask?
Boxes are important. All hell breaks loose without them. So ‘Inside the fig’ reads: ‘our brothers have eaten / into our beds to fuck us.’ It’s a frightening world held inside this pamphlet. A world where ‘Dunstanburgh Castle’ might seem the only fortress safe enough to hold human appetite: ‘I shook at your edges, your terrifying edges’. There’s humour here, laced with deadly seriousness:
Your black edges, your great rooflessness;
I could say anything and no one would hear.
If I looked too far out, we both knew
I’d fall, like a little rock, into the sea.
Go ahead, you said
and I said I do, I do.