Cream cover with blue window-pic of curtains and starsThe Lido at Night, by Patricia Ace

Red Squirrel Press, 2021    £6.00

Dear readers, look

The last poem in this striking pamphlet from Patricia Ace references the work of conceptual artist Marina Abromović. Having read the pamphlet several times (it merits many re-readings) I found myself watching YouTube videos featuring Abromović’s art. The videos took me back to the pamphlet with fresh eyes and deeper thoughts. Before reading more of this review, try watching this short video in which Abromović asks you to look into her eyes for one minute.

Did you do it? What Abromović demands of us (Dear readers, look…), seems to me akin to what Patricia Ace asks us to do in her pamphlet. Many of the scenes she sets before our eyes are not comfortable or pretty, but they are what is happening in the world, and if anything is to change, we have first to look.

The first three poems are set in the streets of Chicago. In ‘The Chicago L’, we find ourselves on a green line train, where we meet a teenage girl ‘who may be high on crystal meth’:

She’s shouting a stream of filth
at her male friend, who’s older.
It’s n-word this, n-word that,
bitch motherfuckin’ n-word the other
[…] until
the other passengers
cower and flinch.

The girl keeps yelling until she’s cleared the carriage, at which point:

She plugs in headphones,
slumps in the corner
like a winded boxer.

That last line about the ‘winded boxer’ sums up the subtle compassion that Patricia Ace shows, throughout these poems, for others, and indeed for herself. From ‘Firebreak’:

You asked me why I left you to cry as a baby
and I could not deny it.
There had been times, not many, but some,
when your unspeakable rage
flung a lit match on the tinder of my anger
and I shut the door […]
I am sorry for it, whatever I have done, or not done.
For the passed-on frailties of being human.

The poems reminded me, in their directness and honesty, of Sharon Olds’ work. There are no easy consolations here, but much humanity. 

Annie Fisher