The Odds, Emma Simon
Smith/Doorstop Books, 2020 £6.00
Fables to live by
If you’re anything like me, you’ll be hyper-vigilant for signs and portents at the moment, scanning for explanations and markers to help you get through this strangely changed world. Emma Simon’s new pamphlet is a help and a guide in this, reminding us that the world has always been worn thin in places where the fabulous peeps through.
The poems here either introduce magic into the everyday or start in a fairytale realm but remain solidly quotidian. The overall effect is extraordinary — pulling off that trick of making you realise and/or feel something really quite profound (themes include bereavement, ageing, family love) in the midst of great entertainment.
You must read the whole pamphlet to enjoy this in full. But particular favourites of mine include ‘A Pindaric Ode to Robert Smith of The Cure’ with its gloriously deadpan and anti-sentimental statements (‘The gods do not change.’ ‘We are not sixteen.’) that celebrate the intensity of teenage feeling and the conundrum of being still who we are, despite not being sixteen anymore. ‘The Bookies’ hums with dark magic in an everyday bookmakers: ‘this background buzz / of luck. Its fizzy hisses’;
passing a betting slip over the counter crackles with it,
like a bulb about to fuse.
There is a thread of mortality running subtly through the whole pamphlet and it culminates with a small group of moving poems which bring us to that line between what we can know and what we only wonder about. ‘Bears’ is about trying to find words with someone who is losing their grip on language:
Nothing will make this better. So we stick
to this week and the next. The knowable.
‘Souvenirs’ addresses the reader: ‘Today is not the day you’re going to die. // Others might. But they’re not your others. Not today.’ The poem ends with a phrase that could stand for the whole pamphlet:
you are again taken aback how they hold
the very idea of breaking, but still remain intact.
An idea we’d do well to remember always, and certainly now.