The death of the sentence, Richard Doyle

Independently published, 2020      £5.00

The torment of writing

In this pamphlet Doyle negotiates the problematic process of writing. As a poet, I relate to the challenge of making marks on a blank page — as he explores potential themes for a novel, material for prose and found poems.

As the title suggests, punctuation seems out of reach, playing fast and loose with first drafts. The final poem, ‘The sentence falls into a black hole’, leaves the reader grasping for shape and sense as it ends:

and we are left
with nothing but our mem-

The collection is quirky, each page offering a different slant. In ‘The poem that brought me hope’ the reader encounters images of positivity: the word ‘shine’ is repeated throughout. Doyle commands the poem to ‘be bold. Be courageous. Topple your enemies with your passion. Spread peace with your presence.’ There’s a sense of progress…

Only for that to be dashed in ‘The only novel I could ever write’. The narrator writes ‘by stealth / In stolen moments’ referring to ‘a book of fragments, episodes, anecdotes, jottings, / ramblings, scramblings’. Which of us hasn’t got notebooks and files filled with these very things? Waiting for an idea to crystallise?

In ‘the sound of one poet wrestling’, images of the struggle to write creatively are rhythmic and traumatic:

sumo, clouds fading
zoom, a chasm, a schism

Its lovely end line — ‘a crown of jasmine blossom’ — suggests a goal achieved, writing success.

Doyle refers to Louis MacNeice’s poem ‘Snow’ in ‘At the ‘Snow and Roses’’. The would-be poet enters a bookshop. He finds solace in a sonnet and stimulus in sound, poetry texts and the colours of pink and white. There’s a beautiful list of objects, including ‘wind chimes and starcharts, jars of gobstoppers and mint humbugs’ and ending with ‘snowglobes of the bookshop’:

I pick one up and
shake it to see myself walking in through the door.

Perhaps now there’s a chance of some inspiration, some success?

The poems dart from the experience of half starts and almost completed self-expression to failure, the killing of darlings and frustration. There’s an eloquent sense of pain, problems with motivation, writer’s block: the all too familiar torment of writing.

Maggie Mackay