Track Record, Sue JohnsThe jacket is white. Title and author name are in thick bold black lower case print, title centred near the top, author nearer to the bottom of the jacket. In the middle is an illustration of a brown train track disappearing into a scene of green pine trees and green mountains.

Dempsey & Windle, 2021     £8.00

Train life

Trains — outside the rush hour, of course — always offered opportunities for reflection. With nothing to do but sit and browse the world speeding past the windows, there was time to consider not only our individual lives but how others might live. In other words, to create backstories for our fellow travellers.

Sue Johns has written a themed pamphlet of twenty poems about travelling on trains, some of them personal, and some as imagined lives.

‘Making Up For It’ reminded me I’ve always been fascinated by women applying make-up on tube trains, envying their concentration and steadiness of hand and eye. It’s a private act in a public place as well as being dependent on getting the right seat — ‘a double seat / or an end seat but never a priority seat.’

Quite right! Those priority seats are for ‘the seniors of Southfields’, and ‘the pregnant of Putney’. Johns knows her place —

I am without a bump, a child or a stick, where is the sign for the half-made-up,
middle-aged shop assistant with a hangover and a poetry book to finish?
A steady hand is required to define the eye or precision at station-stops

I like that ironic nod to train-announcement-speak in ‘station-stops’, one of the many verbal tics announcers have developed. This is evidently a journey she makes regularly; she shows it in the way she measures time with careful calculation —

Six stops allows for three poems and possibly a fourth if we hit a red signal
at Earls Court.

I wonder what those poems look like on the page. Does she read them silently, mindful of Wendy Cope’s sonnet about clearing a train carriage by reading poetry aloud?

All the contents of Track Record have a slightly nostalgic note for the easy freedom of train travel in pre-Covid days. Is this intentional? Perhaps they’re a reminder of what we took for granted.

D A Prince