Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

Run by HappenStance Press

Poetry Monthly Press, 2008   £5.00  - www.poetrymonthly.com
[Available from the author at: 38 Holcombe Crescent, Ipswich, Suffolk]

(£1.00 from each book sold goes to The Red Cross)

This little collection of poems is somewhat odd in presentation: the verso page is blank, there is no contents page and there are three blank pages at the back. Don’t let that put you off. Inside is some attractive writing. Most of the poems are very personal at heart; some perhaps don’t get much further than that, but others have universal resonance, either by virtue of the thought expressed or the particular skill with word and form.

Because Joan Sheridan Smith can do form. She has a beautiful sense of metre and uses it to shape her work subtly and effectively. ‘Remembering Norfolk’, for example is extremely evocative. Here is the second of its two stanzas:

          I mss the great wool churches, Ranworth, Cley
          standing four-square against the Norfolk sky,
          hammer-beam angels, wings outspread,
          old seasoned timbers overhead
          and sunlight streaming through the tall
          pure clerestories over-arching all.

Her titles are not always very arresting, but usually inside the poem itself, there is something—a phrase or a few lines—that calls you back. In ‘Shape shifter’ for example, which didn’t do much for me with its opening lines, there’s this marvellous ending (the poem is all about cats):

          They spring effortlessly to window-sills,
          wrap themselves round your legs
          as if they had no bones.

I liked ‘Spoils’, too, which is simply a list of personal treasures, described in unassuming (but delicate) rhyming quatrains.

Two poems, ‘Tenderness’ and ‘Answering Your Need’ are extremely moving. Although only one of these two is titled ‘Tenderness’, both of them could equally have borne this title. Here the poet is working in free verse, but she exploits the purity of natural phrasing with enviable simplicity. How hard it is to make this look so easy:

          I find you in the bedroom
          wrapping my nightdress
          round the hot-water bottle
          with an old man’s
          slow deliberation.
          It could have been my father.

              (‘Answering Your Need’)

The wrapping round of the lines follows the process the poem is re-creating. In the second stanza, the poet (like the lines of the poem) puts her arms around the person I take to be her husband. It evokes the essence of human tenderness and frailty, and it made me cry.

Helena Nelson