Nettle Press, 2008 £3.00
There’s sedition here for sure. Sermonising too, through a mongrel mix of rap, rant, myth and joke. Consider the unpromising first four lines (from ‘Globalisation’):
I’m in a globalisation
Like this opener, many poems seem written with performance in mind. Fortunately, things soon get better, and in the main these poems do manage to work on the page, where they present as unpunctuated, unstructured and arguably undisciplined, but certainly engaging and idiosyncratic, and often charming and witty.
The back-cover sketches an interesting biography. As well as the manifest interests in politics and activism, Shelmerdine’s experience as a playwright and actor are in evidence here, as is time spent in Kenya (one of the poems was first published in The Morning Star and two of them in Kwani—evidently a Kenyan literary magazine. Not credits I’ve seen before).
My main criticism of the collection would be that too many poems close too cutely, with a punch-line that undermines rather than realises what has come before. But on other occasions, the poems make turns that are affective as well as surprising, as in ‘Blessing’ when we are half-way through an ironic socio-political polemic, unaware of whose views we are hearing, before we come to this:
what a blessing
I haven’t got AIDS
I know I haven’t got AIDS
because I’m a good person
and I only ever had congress
with my husband
may he rest in peace
The poem continues for six lines, but should finish here, with the final wish effortlessly taking us behind the widow’s speech to witness the tragedy of her situation.
Not all the poems have such serious concerns—the veterinary uses of an elephant-foot umbrella-stand, and the similarities between the author’s wife and a caribou are each the subject of amusing short poems. Overall, an enjoyable first collection, as unpretentious as Nettle Press’s straightforward packaging.