Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

Run by HappenStance Press

Nasty Little Press, 2011 £2.00

Seven striperReviewed by Emma Lee, Trevor McCandless and Matthew Stewart

 

Emma Lee:
The Nasty Little Intros are short pamphlets sampling a poet’s work as a taster of poems to come. On the plus side of such publications, they don’t require the cost and time commitment that a reader has to give to a full-length collection. On the minus side, each poem has to justify its place—no place for riskier poems or ‘fillers’. However, Lizzy Dening’s five poems do stand alone and on their own merit. In ‘Silverfish’ an unnamed woman lives with the wingless insects until

One impassioned Sunday she ripped
the boiler from the wall, exposing
a huddled family that shimmered
with all the endless greying hair.

Yet when their shells had been binned

she noticed instead, the steady trickle
of disappointments. The time she asked
for yellow roses, and he bought her lemons.

Freed from battling with pests, she discovers the rest of her life is far from ideal too. It’s not just the lemons that end the poem with a sour aftertaste: the Victorians allocated meanings to flowers, and yellow roses represented jealousy, an apt image and sentiment here.

Apt images and sentiments continue in ‘Jackie Wilson’, a poem that explores the singer’s final illness and death. The nurses who cared for him get heartily sick of his own songs played to him, tempting them to wish he’d hurry up and pass on; then the poem moves on to his legacy and the final distancing from the heart of his life. Regardless of whether readers know anything about Jackie Wilson, the poem’s focus on the loss of a both a person and talent is universal.

Lizzy Dening’s poems invite readers in. I appreciated their tight focus and the way tone and detail brought the poems and situations alive. The poems were pleasurable to read aloud too, showing the writer has taken care with rhythm and choice of words. I look forward to a full collection.

 

Trevor McCandless:
I struggled to warm to these, even though I liked the voice. Dening writes lovely lines of poetry, but the poems themselves didn’t satisfy me.

For example, in the poem ‘Asthma’ she describes waking to the sound of her partner struggling to breathe, and ends the poem with the best lines in the collection:

After I leave, someone coughs in the supermarket,
and I turn around
as if they had called
my name.

You see?—I’m putty in her hands. The problem is that this poem is also a cage cluttered with birds: there are two herons, innumerable gulls and a swan, but just what they are doing here is not clear. The partner is even compared to a fledgling. Am I supposed to guess that the asthma attack is caused by the feathered duvet they sleep under?

I struggled to follow her at least once in every poem. They would veer off and I would have missed the point again. Sometimes the poems veer off before they had even veered on—take the first stanza of ‘Diver’:

The people who approach him in pubs
can be divided into two.
Most suggest,
“it must be like falling in love,”
whilst the ones in leather jackets, try—
“is it like dying?”

What could it be about wearing a leather jacket that makes them think diving is like dying? As the poem progresses, things become more confusing because while I can see that diving might be like falling in love or dying, how can it be like biting hard on a mouth ulcer or failing to thread a needle? And did she notice the implied magic trick in the first sentence of the poem?

‘Nine Out of Ten Women’ started promisingly. I liked that it was playing with the generality of statistics that were then immediately undermined by the specificity of their punch lines:

Two thirds of women
over sixty wonder what
you’re thinking as you drive.

A nice idea, but I needed more. I wanted there to be something else developing through these ‘statistics’, I wanted a more specific ‘story’. I think there probably was such a story in many of these poems, but I needed to be allowed inside the poet’s head to understand it. I felt she never quite let me in.

 


Matthew Stewart:

Lizzy Dening’s Nasty Little Intro #2 is, as its name suggests, one of a series of short collections. Not so much a chapbook per se, it’s more of an ultra-compact mini pamphlet with only five poems. This review must thus begin with the proviso that it’s difficult to reach any firm conclusions on the basis of such a small sample.

This seems especially so in the case of Dening, who likes space. Her narrative gift is clear from the off, as in ‘Silverfish’, the pamphlet’s first poem. Its ending brings the story to a close, yet skillfully opens out beyond:

Yet when their shells had been binned
she noticed instead, the steady trickle
of disappointments. The time she asked
for yellow roses, and he bought her lemons.

The above lines also start to develop the theme of gender roles and expectations, a subject Dening further explores throughout this brief collection. At times, her poetic technique homes in on strange characters, like ‘The Diver’, with its specific yet universal ending:

He squeezes the trapeze artist’s hand.|
Only she has always understood
the gap between late night stories,
and what it is to fall.

In contrast, the pamphlet closes with an intimate poem, ‘Asthma’, which draws on everyday details for its narrative effect.

In other words, Lizzy Dening’s pamphlet manages to showcase a wide range of qualities in a short space. Her expansive narratives lead the reader on a wonderful dance, although her long lines do sometimes slip slightly out of rhythmic control. I very much look forward to seeing her work in a longer format: her talent seems to lend itself to the broader canvas of the full collection she deserves.

 

Link

Matt Merritt on Lizzy Dening