Wood End, Susan Shepherd

Shoestring Press, 2019    £6.00

Where less really is more

What Susan Shepherd can convey in a list is startling. In stark sentences, often no more than a noun phrase or name, the poet encodes a subject, a narrative, and gives us something to really feel for.

‘Thrift Box’ explores the language of money — of another time and a simpler, tougher life — by dissecting a man’s pay:

Feed the slot: a crown for rent, two bob for gas, purse clasp
loose change. Bits for kids: flicks, chocs.

The use of single syllable words creates a staccato sound, which enhances the image of the coins being doled out. Three concise couplets divulge so much about this life: what was important, who was kept by this ‘wage weighed in hand and split.’ 

‘1966 and All That’ takes this brevity further:

Tonks. Sparks. Binns. Rowntrees.
Marshall & Snelgrove. The Harbour Bar.
Maynards. Woolworths. Boyes.

In this list Shepherd explores the context by awakening memories and piquing our curiosity by mentioning names which held significance that year. It creates a personal connection with the reader.

Nowhere is emotion roused more from so few words than a graveyard, and the poet replicates inscriptions on (what we assume to be real) tombstones in ‘Subjunctive in a Borders Kirkyard’. Here we see the ultimate example of where so little says so much:

    Here Sleeps
  Samantha Dawn
    28 July 1971 —
     12 Jan 1972
“Until the Day Dawn”

The final poem in Wood End is ‘While You Were Away’. Here, an absence is keenly felt. The poem goes into detail of the daily occurrences which the absent person is missing:

they cut the barley
we sold Dad’s car
I bought The Post
on DVD (our internet
is still not up to Netflix)

The details are not life-changing, in fact, you might say they are mundane — but this tells us that the person to whom the poem is addressed knew about all these trivialities, shared this life, which adds great weight to the list of events and conversations. The stark final stanza brings this home — impactful, and deeply moving:

No one we love, Martha,
ever goes away
for good

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