HappenStance, 2007 - £4.00
The title of this lively pamphlet is taken from the Latin of Martial, suggesting that a certain book of poems might be either sneered at or used for wrapping mackerel. One certainly would not want to wrap mackerel in the elegant paper of this volume.
From the ‘Christmas Letter’ we have all wished to receive from just one friend, detailing the misdeeds of unsuccessful offspring, to characters such as ‘Danny’, ‘Mildred’ and ‘Lilian’, these poems have just enough edge to keep one guessing, which is what good poems should do.
For example, in ‘Threepence’, with its scarecrow shambling “out of Surrey’s pines/ when war was shaking/ the roots of Europe”, the German soldier (for that is what he must be) is described with masterly economy, straw stubble, torn grey trousers—while detail is reserved for the twelve-sided threepenny bit, which might linger more in the memory of a child. This treatment leads the reader to want to know more: who, how, what happened next?
‘Falling’, an entry into a Chagall painting, that of the bride and groom falling from the Eiffel Tower, manages to recreate the same dreamlike quality inherent in a Chagall:
We never should have climbed that phallus.
We were, after all, Brits and when you heard
a squeaky fiddle playing Greensleeves
and thought you saw your pet goat taking off
from the Eiffel Tower towards Spain,
you went goofy and leaned out to stop it…
‘Clarence’, in couplets, hints at life beyond the mundane:
I was an accountant,
…My life’s a failed poem
merging with its ebb tide.
This collection shows a poet of considerable empathy, with an admirable knack of picking out the foibles in people and putting them gently before his readers, in verse which is assured, never awkward, however quirky the subject.
The Common Reader says of Mackerel Wrappers:
I found this well produced pamphlet very entertaining. Most of the poems made me smile and some had me howling with laughter. ‘Suburban Music’, which describes the predicament of a couple in bed listening to the amorous activities of neighbouring couples, is a superbly funny poem and ‘Quack’, which deals with the comic yet somehow serious courtship of ducks, has a very satisfying ending:
She snails across sun-soaked water,
diffident but willing:
Who would have thought ducks could be so romantic? ‘Christmas Letter’ is a side-splitting gem and the best or worst of it is that it’s totally believable. People do send silly, conceited yearly accounts of their perfect and gifted children. That’s why ‘Christmas Letter’ is such a breath of fresh air.
Mackerel Wrappers is a most enjoyable and sometimes hilarious read.