Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

Run by HappenStance Press

Nine Arches Press, 2008,  £5.00
www.ninearchespress.com

This pamphlet is split into three distinct sections. The first reflects on the legend of Lady Godiva from various points-of-view. The second is concerned with the narrator and the contemporary city of Coventry. The third is a six-page poem which cuts between centuries and subject-matter to construct a fragmented and personal view of the city. The three sections occasionally echo one another.

The pamphlet is quite long—over fifty pages, often with two poems per page. It could easily have been a full-length book, but the quality is uneven. Too many poems were no more than average, and there were a few poor ones.  Number 5, for example, (the poems are numbered rather than titled) has a battle scene in which a green hill “does Dumb Insolence” (more schoolboy attitude than war) and:

hacked corpses
bruised the green indifference. Like pissing dogs
we claim this space by leaving marks

This seems to me embarrassingly unconvincing. It should have been left out of this collection—and there are a number of others about which I feel exactly the same. I say this not least because Liam Guilar, at his best, can write extremely well. He does so frequently in this very pamphlet. Only a couple of poems further on, in Number 13, a man returns from the battle to:

experience for once the beauty
of small, dull ordinary things: old men’s complaints,
your children’s noise, the case of someone’s stolen chickens.

The transition from horror to the ordinary, and the difficulty of settling in it, is depicted convincingly as he wakes, “remembering those who lie, eyes open, on the cold grass.”

Guilar can create effective images that evoke just the right mood. In Number 57, the narrator remembers a woman who made the world seem “full of light and possibility” but now, years later, things have changed and he is left with:

The houses, moving in, like thugs in a dark alleyway
and the dim light, and the streets, all going nowhere.

I admire much about this publication: its use of extended sequences set in different centuries, its (at times) vigorous and musical language, its confrontation of difficult issues such as religious and sexual repression, and its interweaving of reality and legend, as in Number 62, ‘Earl Leofric’s Last Interview’, in which Leofric declares himself the one “who’d walk the golden road to Samarkand/ but turn his dreams to Coventry.”

Inconsistency aside, it’s well worth taking a look at.

Rob Mackenzie

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