Archway Sonnets, Kate Bingham

New Walk Editions, 2020    £5.00

Quietly noteworthy

This is a pamphlet of quiet noticing, starting with a poem noticing what’s been missed:

Over, the irises I must have passed
almost every day of their flowering


What was I thinking? How could I have missed
that gorgeous complicated showy wow

And it took me, as a reader, quite a while to notice to that all these sonnets follow the same rhyme scheme (again, quieter than the usual, I think, with a delayed soft echo – ABCD ABCD ABCD EE).

They’re all set in the same world of ‘the even grey this bit of London’, the tube, puddles, fruit flies. They all seem to feature the same laconic, self-deprecating narrator. I like the way the noticing can also be direct, the gaze raised to note the social reality of the area (‘we know the council isn’t rich’, a beggar on the tube) and self-aware (‘sometimes I don’t do / what I should do, / I look and look away’).  

The jacket is white with a detailed design in grey, showing lattice work and flowers and buildings, with a blurred impression of movement. The author's name and title are in the top quarter, centred, in bright green caps, author name first. All text is the same size..The form works excellently for small self-contained metaphors and reflections, with the consistency of the setting (several poems mention the years coming round again) allowing some of the poems to reach into big subjects without disturbing the overall tone. A sonnet considering being woken by the bathroom fan is one of my favourites: moving from its sound to imagining death as ‘machines rattling softly as they scan, / memory, sight, taste, hearing gone’, a ‘white noise I know I know // from somewhere, dust that rises as it falls / like breath behind the plaster in the walls.’

It’s typical of the un-showiness of the pamphlet that it doesn’t end with the companion poem to the irises, but I can’t resist finishing with ‘the garden roses / no one seems to remember planting’, and the poem’s Larkinesque almost-recognition ‘as if a rose could put the world to rights’ (my italics). Of course it can’t, but I like the way this poem has it both ways, ending with the rose’s ‘unfolding head [that] keep[s] mine together’ and recognising ‘All I have to do is show I notice’.

Ramona Herdman