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Cream cover with black capital lettering for title and author above an etching of a knarled leafless tree with pistols hanging from it by threadsThe Shooting Gallery, Carrie Etter

Verve Poetry Press, 2020    £7.50

The impact words can have

This pamphlet stores narratives in prose poetry form. It’s split into two sections, the first inspired by the surreal paintings of the Czech artist Toyen, the second by American school shootings. Each piece is a bullet, bearing the blended imagery of childhood and violence.

The intensity of the combination rocks the reader back and forth within the crisp lines. There’s a sense of loss and isolation in the Toyen-based work. Disappearing children, silent birds, hurling balls, barbed wire and lost childhood infuse the imagery.

‘The Shooting Galley V11’ sharply expresses these sensations. Targets in the gallery are painted on a board:

On one,
a dog’s open mouth, panting or barking. On another, a gagged
woman, struggling to look away.

The second section, ‘The United States, 1999–’, extends the theme to cover recent events at several schools and further-education colleges. Bouquets, personal items, favourite things, candles, a corpse in its bloodiness — all transport the reader into absence and rituals of grief. Real becomes surreal. We feel the despair and pointless waste in this litany, enhanced by the malleable form.

In ‘The Shooting Gallery, Sante Fe High School, Texas, 2018’ there’s a devastating line which typifies the power of these poems:

At the back, in a large supple closet, teenagers hide as they hear
the shooter sing, ‘Another one bites the dust’, as they hear
footsteps just before the bullets.

By including their names, the work pays homage to every student lost.

I was a little nervous of the prose-poetry form before reading this. Now, I appreciate how meshing imagery with fact in a limited number of sentences can pack a punch. These are powerful laments, verging on political protest. Repeated twists and turns full of surprise. They will stay with me for a long time.

Maggie Mackay

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