Many Red Fish, Steve Spence

Knives Forks and Spoons Press, 2019     £7.00

Uncanny echoes

I write this review while in isolation — and somehow Steve Spence foretold this in his pamphlet, Many Red Fish.

In truth, the poet can’t have known about the impending outbreak of Coronavirus or the impact it would have upon society, and yet many lines in this collection echo phrases in the media today ­— like this, from ‘In the public realm’:

Air passengers
may face problems and we are looking at a period of
serious disruption and chaos.

Or this, from ‘A fork in the towpath’:

We urge all parties to accept the
outcome. A little stretch will facilitate easy movement.

Many of the poems’ titles themselves take on a meaning enhanced by the current situation (in chronological order): ‘A negative situation’, ‘A long descent on an escalator’, ‘At such short notice’, ‘In the public realm’, ‘Hard to navigate’, ‘Aware by now’, ‘Waiting for permission’, ‘Statistics swirl around the room’, ‘Steering clear of danger’.

But the phrases which resonate most are stark, punch-you-in-the-stomach lines, which Spence delivers with precision: ‘Immediate internment may be the least of their troubles’, from ‘A cold-eyed lawyer’; ‘Can we make an advancing army look like an empty street?’ from ‘Waiting for permission’; and, from ‘A word in the right ear’: ‘we are told the worst is still to come’, ‘We are filled with fear.’

Unless Spence has a psychic ability to match his poetic talent, the parallels I draw are more by coincidence than design. And yet, I do wonder whether the poet’s style lends itself to the reader finding meaning within seemingly ambiguous lines.

The poetry in Many Red Fish is fragmented: a series of images and phrases drawn together — sometimes linked, sometimes unrelated. We find clarity by focusing upon the statements which mean something to us and in this way, Spence’s work becomes personal.

I found something unexpected in this pamphlet — poetry which reflects the world at an uncertain time and strangely provides comfort. The line which lingers as I observe the outside world (from a safe distance) is the concluding statement in ‘Keep it coming’:

Then it was over, as abruptly as it had begun.

Vic Pickup