Nettle Press 2007, £3.00
I’ll come clean straight away—I was a little perturbed by the plethora of capital letters in the first half of this collection. OK, I know it worked for Emily Dickinson, but I tend to think of her as the exception that proves the rule. As it is, all those appearances of Light, Life, Death, suggest that the poet doesn’t entirely trust the reader to cotton on to exactly what’s going on here.
And that’s a shame, because Snelling shows that he’s well capable of building an atmosphere of foreboding and fear without flagging things up so obviously.
‘Judgement’, for example, uses simple but effective rhymes to sound like the sort of cautionary verse that’s found in the endpapers of some ancient tome, or carved into the stone of a ruin. ‘A Conspiracy Of Silence’, too, works well for the most part, using one or two telling details early on (“The beautifully pressed uniforms/ The manner, so restrained and polite”) to create a tense picture of political repression and the complicit silences that go with it.
You’re left wondering why Snelling opts to use strangely inverted word order in some of these pieces (“I who uttermostly sad am/ Last line of far descended Adam”—‘Time Of Ending’), just when he’s got you hooked—I much prefer his tauter, more stripped-down, natural approach.
The second half of the booklet consists mainly of humorous verses, and again, Snelling’s at his best when he doesn’t strain for effect. The four laconic lines of ‘The Paranoid’ work well enough, for example, but some of the longer pieces are just a bit too self-consciously wacky, although to be fair, many would also benefit from being heard aloud.
Snelling’s at his best when he forgets about telling the reader what to think, and lets his humanity and humour do the work instead.
Note: Nettle Press is a small poetry press set up in 1998. It has published 9 pamphlets including John Snelling, Siren Songs and one book Richard Leigh, Accidents of Birth (and is the distributor for another book). Details of Nettle Press titles can be found on the Amazon website by typing in Nettle Press into the publisher box using the 'Advance Search'.