Make-Believer, Ian Harrowthe jacket is cream in colour, and all text is left justified in black (there are no images. The title is in large lower case letters about a quarter of the way from the top. Then the last seven lines of the title poem, immediately below, in a normal font size. Then a large gap, and 'poems by' in medium italics, and below it the author's name in caps, not as large as the title but big enough to be legible from a distance.

The Melos Press, 2021    £6.00


A lot can happen in an hour and a lot can be shared in three statements. For example, in the first few lines of the poem titled ‘Between 7 and 8 a.m.’ which begins like this:

Just you and the words
where feelings used to be.

Butter in the pan
spreads into a square of lace.
You catch yourself trying to brush
morning sunlight from your sleeve.

I keep coming back to the question of ‘where’ in the second line. Yes, I am curious about what feelings and what words, but mostly it’s ‘where’ that intrigues me. Do words now literally and physically occupy the spaces and places that feelings once inhabited? If so, can the narrator feel consonants blocking the valves of his heart, damp vowels in his breath, a gamelan of diphthongs in his temples?

Much in the second stanza is not just physical but elemental: earth, air, fire, water. The butter that was milk: taken warm from a cow; separated into curds and whey; churned to a solid and kept cool, now heated back to liquid.

Then the silk, cotton or (in this case) golden threads of lace melt ‘into a square of lace’. The word ‘lace’ derives from the Latin word for noose i.e. a space outlined with rope or thread. Might words be standing in for a feeling here?

And as the butter melts, all senses are engaged. The sizzle and smell of the butter; its changing colour and state; the heat and weight of the pan.

And there’s no brushing away the physics — and physicality — of all this. Sunlight is made of photons created deep within the sun. A photon takes tens of thousands of years to reach the sun's surface. Then, once it escapes, it travels the approximately 93-million miles from the surface of the sun to the narrator’s eye, and sleeve, in just over eight minutes. A stunning feat that many take for granted.

But, for me, the intrigue of this couplet is that — once again — words are standing in for feelings. Because even if the narrator had wanted to, some things can’t be brushed away, can they?

Sue Butler