Orange cover with small silver letteringPlay Lists, Jessica Mookherjee

Broken Sleep Books, 2021,    £6.50

Boredom and risk

This aptly-named pamphlet is unified in its approach: it has youth on its side, and revels in nostalgia. Music beats through it, and there’s even a link to its own ‘Playlist’: 25 great tracks, for readers with the patience to carefully key in the long Spotify url printed at the back of the pamphlet (I did; am playing it now as I type).

Within the pamphlet, there are portraits of a range of characters and encounters. ‘Long Walk Home’, for instance, reads:

These are bleak times he wrapped a heavy coat around himself,
said there was a band playing in Gorseinon — did I want to come

There’s lots of smoking and drinking and make-up and kissing, and the occasional moment of revelation. ‘Nevermore’ ends:

He asked me first, before anyone else, and the raven
whispered Go home, this isn’t your adventure yet.

In ways, these poems remind me of song-lyrics — not inappropriately. I thought of this classic clip of David Bowie, speaking on cut-out composition. The poems in Play Lists also lean on juxtaposition of disparate images, and sometimes on rhyme. And Bowie features, alongside others. ‘Cracked Actors’ references a number of his songs, for instance, while painting its picture of runaways: ‘I stood / on the hotel room’s bed with fish nets, a fake fur jacket, / painted lips of dust-ruby to take you.’

Many of the poems capture that half-innocence, high-risk of youth. Here’s the opening to ‘The Boys’:

They always lie. You slide next to my seat,
ask for a cigarette and I keep smoking.
All I want to know is where you’re sleeping,
I write down all your good points, clever, handsome,
funny. I do this while you’re not looking.

But of course the danger’s real. And frightening. ‘Smashing’ reads:

She beckons music, drives faster, spreads her pale skin-veins
and antennae, and he smashes into her light-bulb again, again

I like the last poem ‘Gentleman Caller’. It captures beautifully and cumulatively that hot boredom and brink of youth — and of summer evenings in the city:

I throw the night door open,
listening for him

Charlotte Gann