On Long Loan, Vanessa Lampert

Live Canon, 2020    £7.00

Not even the headmaster could wrench this girl away

When I read a Vanessa Lampert poem, I want to be the BFF of the poet and her protagonists: the mum with ‘sugar in my eyebrows’ in ‘Candyfloss’; the girl on a train wanting ‘to dangle upside down’ from a luggage rack, in ‘Dangle’; and the woman welcoming her period ‘in the bakery section at Asda’, in ‘Canada’.

The mischief-makers of a Vanessa Lampert poem do, say, or desire, the things we usually refrain from. Who wouldn’t want ‘to sail through air while smiling wildly’ like the circus woman in ‘Oh Jossers We’?

From the opening poem, ‘Not like this park’, I am a confidante. The poet tells me:

My park will be a bowl to hold sunlight,
the sky dropped on long loan.

There’s a sense of intimacy. There’s also a lightness and irreverence, in lines such as: ‘No bags of shit dangling from branches like baubles’. And a sense of confessing: in ‘The song of it’ when, reflecting on first love, the writer concedes hers was ‘too flimsy when they taunted him’.

Elsewhere, I am egging on the jubilant narrator, who invites me to interact and ‘Say it with me’, in ‘Canada’. And again, in ‘Woodland’, I am in on the naughtiness: 

She’s just saying, she’d like to read of a clitoris
in woodland. She’s just saying vulva, twice. Vulva.

In ‘Tower’, at the end of the sequence, I am stunned when — having given a nostalgic portrait of her father — the poet writes:

I looked up at the tower of him,
and grief would never dare
to touch my life.

Why? Having read of a brother’s suicide, in ‘The demolition of Didcot power station’; and of having ‘to tell the kids we’d be loving them / from separate buildings’, in ‘Pneumonia’, I think I understand... 

This pamphlet is like a good friend: charismatic, vulnerable and magnanimous. Just as the headmaster could not ‘wrench this girl away’ from the ‘Candyfloss’ machine, I was gripped. I imagine Lampert winking at me — like the ‘killjoy main bitch’ mummy, wielding ‘a pink cloud on a stick’, who the children fell in love with.

Alexandra Corrin-Tachibana