Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

Run by HappenStance Press

Belfast Lapwing Press, 2012   £10.00
(price includes postage and digital copy also available for £5.00)

 

Reviewed by Matt Bryden, Trevor McCandless and Stephen Payne

 

Matt Bryden:
‘Spare’ would be a good word for this eye-wateringly pricy pamphlet: monochrome cover, short poems (24 in total) which often lack punctuation or capitalisation. The title poem suggests “the views expressed” are not necessarily those of the poet, who is many things to many people. Views would be a good thing. Most of these poems comprise in total an interesting insight, and do not develop beyond it. ‘Differences’ reads “the tea/ in my broad-rimmed cup/ soon goes cold/ yours/ continues to steam”. On occasion, this lack of development is successful. ‘Two Versions,’ for example (which begins “he read the book/ she saw the movie/ they discussed their differences”, and closes “and so they continued to argue/ about a film he’d never seen/ and a book she’d never read”) is itself concerned with the lack of distance travelled to accommodate the other, or to seek dialogue.

 

There is a complicit lack of dynamic in the lovers’ behaviour, hidden in a room on one occasion as they attend the burglary of their house. Of course, we sense they are observing their own robbery of what was valuable in their relationship. In ‘Uneven Couplets’ it is the choosing to ignore things – “affair after affair” – rather than addressing the problems, which signals the failure of the relationship.

 

I’m given a sense of real unease by the close perspective of some of the pieces. Here is ‘Ghost Ships’:

 

She no longer slams doors.
Instead, with a nonchalant touch
she sets them adrift
creaking
towards their close.

 

This behaviour seems disconcertingly furtive, that “nonchalant” suggesting this is now her standard behaviour. A slammed door might at least express dissatisfaction. The title has echoes of passing in the night.

 

Of the very short poems, my favourite is ‘Parting’:

 

the dry patch
where your car was
disappears

 

Whether this is worth prolonged attention is another matter. Yes, it travels a long distance for its length. There are a couple of other poems equally economical. Yet one would expect in a pamphlet in which each word is so costly that they should at least add up. In a couple of cases, I’m not sure they do.

 

 

 

 

Trevor McCandless:
These are short poems, with at least one even shorter than the one quoted below. To read the entire collection takes minutes. There are no pretensions to the language. It is clean and clear. The subject matter seeks the poignant in the everyday.

 

These are poems almost entirely focused on oppositions – and far too often on males and females separating. All I know of Moss comes from two sentences, clipped like his poems: his dedication regretting that his dead father and his daughters will never meet, and the single sentence on the back cover stating he lives with his partner and two children. For me a strange tension holds between what I’ve gleaned from such scant information about him and of the themes of his poems.

 

The title poem is essentially a list of adjectives that has a sting in the tail with the poet saying he is more than all this. I suspect he was likewise hoping for such a view to be taken of his poetry. There is a vaguely philosophical tone behind the starkness in the poems here, an attempt to illuminate deeper truths beyond the commonplaces. For me, too often this collection proves that there is a paradoxical corollary to the standard advice offered writers – less is not always more. Here, for example, is the whole of ‘Paths’:

 

slippery patch of ice
she walks over it
he walks around it

 

There are similar polarities in nearly every poem. I rarely felt satisfied with these. Contrasts are set up and then left for the reader to ponder, or not, as the mood takes them. The better poems here don’t give the reader that choice. The best, to my mind, is ‘Driving in the Dark’ – comparing love to swerving to miss a rabbit on the road:

 

even when I throw myself in front of you,
still you try to swerve and avoid me.

 

I would have enjoyed more of this sharp and clever humour.

 

 

 

 

Stephen Payne:
The ‘Disclaimer’ in the collection’s title is expressed in the first poem, which is typical in being very short indeed (24 words, spread over 16 lines). It announces that “the views expressed . . . do not necessarily reflect my own”, which is fair enough.

 

No such disclaimer is possible for a reviewer, although I personally always suspect my own views of being fragile and transient. So let me begin with fact. This pamphlet is priced as a full collection, but contains only 24 short poems: no single poem reaches the length of a standard sonnet. In terms of words per penny (an imperfect standard for judging poetry collections, admittedly), this pamphlet is poor value.

 

The most successful poems for me are those that are imagist or haiku-like in style and strategy. For example, ‘Lines’:

 

a queue of people
their shadows
falling on one another

 

I also find ‘Parting’ (quoted in full below) particularly satisfying:

 

the dry patch
where your car was
disappears

 

This is such a strong image and a good metaphor, making for a poem that seeps into the space around it, like the patch in reverse.

 

‘Lines’ and ‘Parting’ further illustrate some features that apply consistently – the lack of punctuation, the plain diction and syntax. They also hint at the disaffection with human relations that is the central theme – especially disaffection with a romantic relationship. Several poems address this theme more directly, and to my mind less successfully, by describing a particular, metaphorical Venus/Mars opposition, as for example, ‘Paths’:

 

slippery patch of ice
she walks over it
he walks around it

 

This poem doesn’t satisfy me nearly as much. The idea would be fine as part of a longer poem, perhaps. And this is my summary judgment: despite some terrific moments, I feel this pamphlet is too sparse and underdeveloped, as if too many poems have been abandoned prematurely. It would be very interesting to see Tristan Moss try his imaginative hand at longer, more ambitious pieces.