The Wordy-Gurdy Man, John KillickThe jacket is white, A5 in size and shape. In the middle there is a monochrome photo of an old-fashined musician. He seems to be holding a stringed instrument with a drum on his back and a pointy hat. But maybe what he is holding is a hurdy gurdy. Title is in black caps above the photo centred. Name of author is centred in smaller caps below the photo.

Fisherrow Press, 2020   £5.00

Who’s laughing now?

Even the title of the book is an attempt to catch us off guard. We expect it to be the hurdy-gurdy man, but it’s not. The pun sets us up to think this is going to be a collection filled with verbal dexterity, badinage and hi-jinks. But I can’t lie, it very much is filled with that.

The first and eponymous poem starts

               a scandal, a word-vandal
                                    who turns the handle
                                              and minces syntax
                                     till it comes out wrong.

However, my first read-through of the poems made me think of Roger McGough and his word play. And much like McGough’s finest work, while there are elements of experimentation and fun with the language employed, there’s also something much deeper at work. There’s a sadness here that requires a second look.

In ‘She Was Putting Up With Him, But What Was She Thinking?’ the poet asks a series of rhetorical questions about a rocky relationship, but the final question goes much further:

Did you know
it’s possible to walk away from all this bluster and blather
and seek sole occupancy of a life elsewhere?

While the obvious thought is that this about leaving a human being (for whatever reason), that final line and the idea of ‘sole occupancy’ suggests to me a move away from the wider world, a withdrawal, and I’m intrigued as to why our observer feels this way.

It’s the moments like this in these poems that work best for me, like when someone finds themselves in the quantum-leap-esque situation of conducting an orchestra in front of a packed Royal Albert Hall in ‘The Lightning Conductor’. We think it will be ok, that the performers can ‘play this piece with their eyes shut’. However, the final stanza reads:

But I know it is only a matter of time before
everyone out there knows the score.

Obviously, the musicians know ‘the score’ as the pun of the title suggests. And yet, there’s something in the final stanza that hints at a feeling of imposter syndrome....

Mat Riches

[Copies available from the author at: Fisherrow Press, 17 Limestone View, Settle, North Yorkshire BD24 9FH]