Bright yellow landscape shaped cover with pen lettering in various coloursindoors looking out: a creative exchange in constrained circumstances, poems by Hilaire, transcribed and decorated by Stephen J Graham

Lower Case Press, 2020    £5.00

What happens when nothing happens

It’s 2020 and the country is in lockdown. You look out from your second-floor window in Battersea onto eerily hushed streets. You’ve been told to stay here. What can you do?

Well, since you’re a poet, you could focus your attention on this almost-nothing-happening panorama, and write what you see. Some haiku perhaps, and maybe a few tankas — minimal forms that will reflect the Zen-like simplicity the world has suddenly assumed. You write a few, and text them to an artist friend who lives a few short streets away. He copies them out by hand; and devises a simple font for them, based on the St Cuthbert Gospel he’s seen in the British Library combined with an ancient script from India. He decorates the poems with patterns and drawings to reflect the varying mood of each.

In this way, indoors looking out was born: a self-published pamphlet of 28 poems. The poet, Hilaire, is donating £1 per sale to Refuge. Stephen Graham’s proceeds will go to UNHCR for Syrian refugees.

There is an immediacy and an appealingly child-like quality to this pamphlet. I was reminded of George Perec’s 1974 book, An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris in which Perec tried to record in minute detail the events he observed over a three-day period sitting in a Paris square. Perec wanted to capture our daily, unspectacular lives: ‘what happens, when nothing happens’. Hilaire and Stephen Graham’s poems seem to me a much simplified, but charming and memorable, attempt at the same sort of thing. One key difference, however, is that indoors looking out is written under the pall of the pandemic:

even the air is
on edge, rattling leaves, sparking
gusts; unnerving lulls.
sirens, alarms, rapid barks
pepper the gaps
someone laughs.

It helps to see the poems in their transcribed and decorated format to get a true sense of them, so by kind permission, two are reproduced below. They certainly capture something of the times we’ve been living through. And perhaps it’s just me, but the second one seems decidedly reminiscent of a certain video conferencing platform!

Annie Fisher