Talking pen, 2012, £4.00
(12 Derby Crescent, Moorside, Consett, County Durham, DH8 8DZ)
Reviewed by D A Prince, Ross Kightly and Helena Nelson
D A Prince:
Limerance: there’s a lilt of magic in this word, suggesting a mix of shimmering lightness and romance – and it was a new word to me. It’s a state of unrequited love: that excited, almost manic feeling that comes when thinking about someone you are achingly attracted to, a feeling intensified because the beloved is unaware and unattainable, a pressure that is integral to the attraction. The title poem reveals limerance as more than a teenage affliction; all ages are vulnerable. Wakefield sums it up neatly – “I light up at his name/ in my Inbox.” Is it intentional that he is unconvincing in the role of passionate lover? He’s “a teddy bear”, and “a man who is kind, opens doors,/ pulls my chair out for me”. Or am I misreading a level of ironic intention in this poem?
Ideally, small pamphlets should use their limited size to increase their impact: with only a small number of poems (fifteen, in this case) there should be some relationship to each other, whether in content or style, adding up to something larger than the individual poems. I’m not sure that happens in this collection. Too often there’s a suggestion of a clever idea not fully realised, as in the opening poem, ‘Parallel Lives’, where the different stories (a car passenger in Weardale, and an elephant in the Serengeti) merge in one poem. Perhaps the idea of different typefaces was considered, then rejected; perhaps some variation in layout (indentation, possibly, to differentiate the pair) was seen as too obvious. Similarly a villanelle, ’The Woman in the Mirror’, can’t quite achieve the play of closeness and distance but slides into repetition. It’s an unforgiving form.
Wakefield has an MA in Creative Writing, and I suspect these poems are still too close to her writing during the course. A couple of poems ‘after’ other poets might have grown out of an exercise. ‘They’, however, hits back; “they” are the tutors with their demands –
They want our poems to have movement,
scope, texture, musicality.
They want us to find our voice,
but then try to silence it.
There’s a healthy anger permeating the six four-line stanzas of this poem: “They take our fees, our naivety,/ sensitivity, plagiarise our work.” It’s by far the strongest emotion in the collection, and for that reason wins my sympathy.
So where is the poet’s voice? I wonder if it’s here, at the end of ‘Boat Trips on the Tyne’, a sequence of three linked poems –
I sit by myself,
something like a bag of dreams,
sitting in my lap.
There’s no acknowledgement of the source of the block-prints that accompany the poems, and that’s a pity. Their heavy black inking adds a satisfying earthiness, particularly to the cover.
A nice-looking pamphlet of fifteen poems; it promises well and delivers. Contents range from the relative intricacy of the opening poem, ‘Parallel Lives’ (where somehow a driver “on a B road in Weardale” is also “an elephant named Dorothy . . . marauding around the Serengeti”) to the poignancy of ‘In Rome’, the ironic knowingness of ‘Elementary Photoshop’, and the homage of ‘38 Poems I Never Wrote’.
This last intrigued me greatly, with its list of great titles: “Bun feet. Mulch. Eating Crab at Cromer. . .” and so on, and its epigraph acknowledging the poet's indebtedness to Linda France.
I tracked down the book by the latter poet in which the original ‘38 Poems She Never Wrote’ appears. When I compared the two, it was with some trepidation, having by this time found the rest of Sheila Wakefield's pamphlet immensely appealing. I need not have worried. The poet is confident in owning up to her game, and she carries it to a marvellous conclusion with the final line: "Amethyst. Writing Your Name in the Sand."
Other poems here painfully acknowledge the joys and pains of love with such precision and sureness that I found myself wincing, then laughing through tears, so that ‘final line’ means treble or quadruple in the context of this excellent little book.
But there is much wit and play also: ‘Vee Dubya’, ‘Elementary Photoshop’ and ‘They’ made me nod and mutter in agreement. But there are also elements of social criticism and personal angst.
Like a small bowl of dried dates, figs and unsulphured apricots accompanied by a cup of Japan green [Sencha] tea, flavoured with peach, this collection delivers pleasure and nourishment way above its size. More please. Put the kettle on.
This is the first pamphlet collection from a poet-publisher whose writing life hitherto has been spent promoting the work of other people, not her own. It is a lovely, memorable title, with a correspondingly striking front cover – bright red card with a bold, black woodcut of a couple kissing. A sprig of mistletoe protrudes from the top right corner. So even if you don’t know the term ‘limerance’ (I didn’t) you get the general impression of something romantic, which is correct. The term ‘limerance’ (or ‘limerence’) was coined by American psychologist Dorothy Tennov in her 1979 book Love and Limerence – the experience of being in love. Tennov was interested in the period of infatuation and/or besottedness with the loved one that characterises the early stages of a romantic relationship.
In fact, some of the poems in Limerance are about the reverse. ‘Twelve Things I Don’t Want to Hear’ seems to have an unreasonable and unlovable partner at its heart, a person whose “wisdom teeth are hurting again”, perhaps the person who destroyed the poet’s “self-esteem” in ‘Far Too Long’ and whom she directs to “Leave my heart and go to hell.” Relationships are important here: the strongest poems and the best lines tackle them head on, and yet this is not consistent. Six, or perhaps seven, of the texts hang together nicely. Others are oddly disconnected – entertaining, yes, but they don’t have the disarming frankness of the best work. To me this is a pamphlet designed to support readings: several texts (’38 Poems I Never Wrote’, ‘Twelve Things I Don’t Want to Hear’, ‘Next Door’ and ‘They’) would go down well with a live audience. On the page their satisfaction is limited.
But I loved ‘Vee Dubya’ in which the poet talks about her car as if he were a man – this has charm and originality, and there is an authentic edge that would come through, I think, whether or not you knew the writer at one time owned and managed a garage. ‘Far Too Long’ nearly takes off: the language is not fresh enough, to my mind, though it starts well: “I used to hang on your every word” (a state of former limerence?). You “censor everything I say and do” she goes on, using a word that recurs in ‘Limerance’ where another man “doesn’t censor every word I speak” (italics mine). There’s a missed opportunity here. The concept of the “censor” needs to be more than just a familiar phrase grouped with “destroy my self-esteem” and “control every minute, day and night”. Person as ‘censor’ is an distinctive concept, interesting enough to explore fully, potent enough to insist on turning up twice in one pamphlet.
The piece that astonished me was the title poem, which concludes this collection. The language is straightforward, conversational, not particularly poetic. But it is so unashamedly honest, so revealing (in the Sharon Olds sense) that I was first riveted, then almost shocked by the trust in the reader, the preparedness to give so much away. The ending nearly made me cry:
I know it’s wrong to love him,
I’m no good at being right.
He is unavailable and unaware
that he has cracked my heart.
I will love him until
the tundra melts.
Limerance is also reviewed at