Strip Down: Poems of modern life, edited by Robin Helweg-Larsen

Sampson Low, 2019   €2.60

Catching up with progress

This pamphlet is the fifth in Sampson Low’s ‘Potcake Chapbook’ series. A ‘potcake’ is a stray dog of the Bahamas and the Caribbean that lives off the burnt scrapings of cooking pots, and each chapbook features a ‘mixed bunch’ of poets writing about a specific theme. But the series is also committed to the rhyming and scanning of formal poetry — on the basis that these are characteristics of ‘all truly memorable poetry’.

Despite this arguably dubious premise, Strip Down: Poems of modern life contains fourteen poems by as many poets that address notions of ‘progress’ and ‘development’ in entertaining and insightful ways.

One notable theme is the fast pace and attendant superficiality of much modern life. The general speediness is captured in Tom Vaughan’s poem about a series of encounters around a perennially postponed lunch (‘Must Have Lunch’):

And hey — that ring, Hitched, I conclude?
Me? Not yet. Who’d
Have me? Whoops — now
I must dash. Ciao.

In similar vein is Antonia Clark’s fast-paced poem about the ubiquity of phone- and computer-based notifications (‘Notifications’),

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Modern romance is portrayed as a recurring nightmarish experience in ‘Weekend’ by Susan de Sola (‘and only two days in they have a stupid little spat, / an old familiar method to ensure that things go flat’). The well-known frustrations of one alternative — virtual romance — are bemoaned in Claudia Gary’s ‘The Video Call’:

You are not here. I am not there.
You try and fail to muss my hair.
To no avail we stare and stare
Till eyes go blear. It’s so unfair.

There’s also great humour in Marcus Bales’ poem about the confused customer who strips off in front of a cashier not realising the request was to place the credit card ‘strip down’ (‘“Strip down”, she ordered’); and in David Galef’s wonderfully tragi-comic take on ‘Millennial Romance’:

After sex,
each checks
for texts.

Tim Murphy