Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

Run by HappenStance Press

ASphinx six stripercumen Occasional Pamphlets, 2012   £3.50

Reviewed by Niall Campbell, Gill Andrews and Nikolai Duffy

 

Niall Campbell:
It is not usually a good sign for me when a pamphlet’s opening three poems are a sonnet for mother’s day, a ‘found’ poem, and a poem for a Barmitzvah. Such pieces are easiest to write (the poet’s subjective interest in the occasion making them so) while at the same time hardest to render a sharable event for the reader (where they get as much out as the poet does in writing them). These three poems, like many of the pieces here, are at points touching, at points tender, and at points, I think, sentimental. Here are the opening lines for ‘Sonnet for Mother’s Day’:

You died on the summer solstice (blue skies)
Eighteen years ago now, near as dammit.
And still I do not know your hows or whys.
Working you out was like reading Hamlet.

The second line is an absolute beauty – even reading it a third or fourth time the phrase “near as dammit” has punch. A rawness to it. But, for me, this only serves to show up how little the other lines are doing – blue skies, hows and whys – reading Hamlet. It had me, then it lost me.

There are twenty-seven poems in the publication and it is a mixed bag that might have benefited from being slimmed down. A case in point would be ‘Three Short Pomes in a Row’ where I’m not sure whether the misspelling of ‘poems’ is a wink to the lightness of the content. Here is the third poem from the grouping:

A mother walking with her son,
A mobile clamped upon her ear.
Somewhere is the setting sun.
Her eyes are filled with tears.

I’m not sure the pamphlet would have lost much had this been jettisoned in the editing process.

Weldon obviously has a good eye for picking up details and observations about the world – but a more rigorous interrogation of what in each poem is ‘real’ and what is platitude might have made this a stronger publication.

 

Gill Andrews:
Tiny
Disturbances contains a great deal of tenderness, especially towards the poem’s family and friends. I liked ‘Reply: A Found Poem’. According to its epigram, this was adapted from a letter from the poet’s father to the poet’s mother:

So I want you to know
that I could not find my comb until I found it
and that it is as hot as the devil [ . . . ]


Not that these things or perhaps any thing at all        
is of the slightest interest, and if they happened
and you were here they would be trivial [ . . . ]
[ . . . ]  putting it bluntly it is a jarring thing
for you not to know about them
automatically

‘Reply: A Found Poem’ risks being boring. But I enjoyed the celebration of the inconsequential as a means of commenting on separation. Many of Wheldon’s poems teeter on the edge of over-sentimentality. For my taste, ‘Reply: A Found Poem’ just about stays on the right side of that line, although I did wince slightly at “we are beyond sharing the world’s news/ and the going joke and can now only share life.”

This poet has some great phrases. I liked the description of parenthood as “that good responsibility” in ‘Arriving at Monemvasia, 1992’. And, from ‘Full Moon, Italy’:

The moon is full and pink as a melon.
The old-time artist’s grand-daughter
stands dangerously young
and almost naked in its light.

The phrase “pink as a melon” is fresh and original, and I adored “dangerously young”. However, the poem becomes rather coy in describing the girl further:


I note the dimples in her back [ . . . ]

and the delicate darkness
where all curves meet
where dark heaven and bright hell meet

The poem ends “and between the fragments of the moon/ lust and beauty tango.”  I thought this was corny, and also didn’t understand it: is the narrator Lust, and the girl Beauty?  Or are the two sides of the narrator’s mind tangoing?

 

 

Nikolai Duffy:
By and large, Tiny Disturbances does what it says on the tin: it collects 27, often short snapshots of various moments, memories and dawdlings that concern family, memory, friendship, time, the stuff and flow of language, things that stick, things that don’t. And Wheldon’s is an accomplished poetry: there’s a sprawl of reference and of forms; each text is crafted with an impressive lightness of touch, a gentleness rare in contemporary poetry. Across the collection, such a style can make it easy to ‘drift’ from poem to poem. The danger, of course, is that in such drift specificity can be missed. To miss these poems would, I think, be a shame. They have both grace and charm.

‘Reply: A Found Poem’ is one of the most representative. Adapted from a 1950s letter written by his father in New York to his mother in Notting Hill, it is poignant, intimate, and searching, but only in the most quiet of ways. Here understatement and dailyness are the tones of love. A husband misses his wife, writes to her of having misplaced his comb, of finding it, of the heat, of going to the toilet. In its rhythms and vibrancy and its easy shifts from the quotidian to the grandiloquent there are echoes of Frank O’Hara, though this is British and so lacks the particular sentiment and surrealism of O’Hara’s splendid sprawls. But for all that, Wheldon’s poem – his poetry – is warm, immediate, and immediately full of love, and I for one am grateful for that:

Not that these things or perhaps any thing at all
is of the slightest interest, and if they happened
and you were here they would be trivial
and perhaps even boring or tiresome, but they
exist as part of my irresistible
and flowing and absolutely living,
nose-picking, glorifying, boring being,
and putting it bluntly it is a jarring thing
for you not to know about them
automatically,
and for me equally not to know
that you are grizzling over the sink,
or thinking about Aldous Huxley,
or feeling the edge of desperation
like a bad tooth on the edge of the tongue
simply because you are looking at a single
delphinium,
and as usual, it implies the world,
not to mention what the hell to do
about the lupins, and eternity.

This isn’t the best produced of pamphlets: there are occasional font changes in poems (perhaps just a result of printing rather than typesetting) and the large font on the small pages looks a little clunky to my eye. The printing lacks sharpness, particularly on the cover where the title is pixelated. But, then again, this pamphlet is only £3.50 and more often than not there’s a reason why they say you get what you pay for.

So you can think of a little book like this as being part of poetry’s value range. The problem with that, though, is that it runs the risk of devaluing the contents. Wheldon writes witty, tight and accomplished verse. I think it needs folding in more finery. And one of the great things about pamphlets is that they offer you these little reading moments which, as much as anything else, are about a special kind of reading experience, about the process of getting comfy with a well-made little book and reading cover to cover, about living sequestered in a moment. Because of this, such books also make wonderful gifts. Quality reading time is rare. I wouldn’t mind paying a little more for a little finer cloth.