The Rake, Tristram Fane SaundersThe jacket is deep black. In the middle is a stylish red fox, looking to the left. The title is in thick white caps, with 'THE' placed vertically and 'RAKE' horizontally, so that together they make a neat right-angle in which the fox sits. The author's name is in the same red as the fox, in small caps. All names run in the normal horizontal way, with 'TRISTRAM' just above the THE and 'FANE SAUNDERS' neatly fitted precisely below RAKE.

Smith/Doorstop, 2022    £5.00

Being part of the action

The Rake leans out from the first page, addressing you, the reader, in ‘The Rake Takes His Time’. The title runs straight in to the poem — ‘(from you, reader you’ll hardly feel it…’

But this address is slant. It’s a short poem, only four lines, but enclosed in parentheses, as though he’s talking out of the side of his mouth. Perhaps his attention is on someone else. For now, though, it’s us — or almost — and in four apparently simple, sinuous lines, he’s made us part of his story. We’re drawn in, beguiled by attention. Isn’t that what a Rake does?

This Rake has that most seductive feature: wit. He’s intelligent, assuming the same quality in his reader. He’s playful, crafty in every sense. Consider the opening of ‘The Rake Would Like You’ —

in a moment, but not yet, to pour
yourself out of that little peignoir
    and into the wet.

Then, four poems in, we meet Laura. She’s not explained, exactly, but now we are no longer central to him. But isn’t that a rake’s way, stringing along as many admirers as he can? I’m hooked, even when an authoritative voice breaks into the sequence in ‘from The Unauthorised Biography, Vol IV: 1730-1960’ and summarises his progress —

Years pass. He lurches up the gilded stair
cad to rogue to fiend to devil, till
tripping on
national treasure he alights,

breathless, on the upper landing:

Laura, who is now inside the poems and not only in the titles, takes her leave in a poem that plays with ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ and lets an unwritten albatross lead into the ending:

that lonely bird, my Laura, Laura

knew her name. I think it rhymed with loss.

The final poem ‘the rake makes amends’ (subtitled ‘a skipping song’) returns to the pamphlet’s opening —

a pencilthin line
rake’s lips misalign
round one last resort
the ghost of a rhyme
in a book you just bought
the rake takes his time
reader   from   you

He’s lost it all, even his capital letter, except what he’s filched from us: time. It was time well-spent and, because it was so seductive, it can be enjoyed over and over. With each reading, this pamphlet delivers new delights.

D A Prince