Orange two tone cover with grey band across bottom. Title black out of orange; author name, orange out of greyFrank & Stella, Mark Wynne

tall-lighthouse, 2020       £6.00

Brief Statement

I found this a wonderful, unexpected, pared-back pamphlet. An unusual debut. Based around the life and work of painter Frank Auerbach, Frank & Stella works well at two levels: both at capturing the spirit and feel of its subject, and as a sequence I could appreciate and relate to with little reference to that. Here, from ‘Stella Asleep’:

         I see you’ve chosen a new colour for sadness

I stumble through the gentle disaster of sleep

Throughout, Mark Wynne shows refreshing restraint. Frank Auerbach famously scraped his paint off and started again and again on the same canvas. In ‘Camden Town’, Wynne writes ‘I wake up every morning / stunned // the walls scraped bare / again’. And these poems do have that same feel: of layers scraped away and a residue left which has a more powerful effect for all that’s been erased.

Throughout, there’s a sense of high anxiety — ‘I’m reading too much / into everything’, starts ‘Primrose Hill’ — and that paint is ‘a full five-inches thick’, as he has it in ‘Film Critic’ — but the eventual, unembellished poems work brilliantly, to my mind: a meld of brief statements. So, ‘it’s taken a week to climb these steps’, he writes in ‘Delacroix’; or ‘why are you afraid of your own bed?’ and ‘the past overwrites the present’, in ‘Earl’s Court’.

The final poem in the sequence is itself called ‘Brief Statement’:

the desire
            to explain, falters
a brief statement

dissolves into nothing

And these poems do, for me, dissolve any ‘desire / to explain’. Very London-centric, as was Auerbach’s work, they simply offer up images and mood — sadness — and leave me to meet them. I love the opening poem ‘Interior, Vincent Terrace’. It sets out in front of us a small cast of characters, an interior: ‘that room    that awful yellow // the colour of unlove’. The poem works powerfully, for me, less definitely delivering more:

            picture our life
as a cardboard box

now try to imagine
            the top lifted off

It’s exactly what I do, reading these poems.

Charlotte Gann