The Tyring House, Lynn ThorntonThe top third of the jacket is white, the bottom two-thirds a winey red. The title, one word per line, is in fairly large lower case in the top part. The words are left justified but start somewhere around the middle. The author's name is in small white lower case towards the top of the red area, in line with the title text.

Poet’s House Pamphlets, 2020     £6.00

Timeless classics

Lynn Thornton’s pamphlet takes characters from classic theatre (mainly Shakespeare, though Antigone and Penelope feature too) and gives them a new voice. ‘The Tyring House’ (the opening poem) refers to a section of the theatre reserved for actors to dress, and sets the scene for a series of poems which try on different characters.

This opening poem describes a theatre and its atmosphere. It begins, ‘smells of musk / sweat / tallow thick / air’, and goes on to depict the audience as having ‘faces turned up / yelling / like / bear baiters’.

These descriptions seem contemporaneous to Shakespeare, but elsewhere Thornton updates her settings, placing Shakespearean characters in the modern day.

For example, ‘Viola’, the protagonist of Twelfth Night, is asked:

Where are you now
in a ritzy café on the Bahnhofstrasse
or peering out across the lake
for the last ferry of the night?

Meanwhile, Feste drives ‘his polished Mini Cooper / red with a white racing stripe’, and hangs his ‘faded motley on a plastic / hanger’, while The Tempest’s Caliban is depicted asking: ‘You want to take my photograph?’

Even in poems where there are no overtly modern references, Thornton employs a thoroughly up-to-date poetic voice — this is true even in the title poem, but perhaps most noticeably in pieces such as ‘Cordelia’, which begins:

I take
my silence
to me

it whole

Here, Lynn Thornton takes a Shakespearean character and makes her timeless. Even when Cordelia mentions her ‘dowry’, this idea isn’t broken. The word ‘dowry’ is delivered in free verse, with short lines and direct, simple language.

The Tyring House demonstrates the timelessness of classic literature. It creates a fluid and undefinable setting, giving its characters voices that both compelling and untethered from time.

Isabelle Thompson