Notes for a romcom (Love poems to a normal world), Vanessa Walters
Halfly Press, 2021 £6.00
One word per line, perhaps two words per line, if the words are short. Perhaps only half a word if the word has several syllables. Vanessa Walters shows a preference for this format — slender, delicate poems that seem weightless. ‘Beer poem’ opens
If this were a print review with space constraints I might have been tempted to give that quotation without its white space, using the convention of a slash to indicate a line-break. But so much would have been lost: that tentative splitting of ‘Remem-ber’, the little turn of speed in ‘there were’, the plaintive quality in ‘and’ , along with the sadness of ‘touch’ sitting in isolation. The reader might miss that the words ‘each’ and ‘other’ are sitting side by side.
These poems, as the title reminds us, are reflections on what was our ‘normal’ world. Their words have the print equivalent of social distancing. They can’t hug each other; they have to remember to keep their distance.
Look at what would have been lost if I’d chosen to condense this so that it appeared as ‘Remem-/ ber the / days / when / there were / laughs / all / around / a table / and / when we / could / touch / each other’s / glasses’; same words but they’re crowding in together. They’re no longer suggesting what the poem is asking the reader (or the lover) to do: to hold, very lightly, that taken-for-granted past and explore its memory slowly. The white space not only allows the reader time to think; it’s also a part of the thinking process.
I find it satisfying when a poet matches line length to content. Here, the gentle process of teasing apart the fine strands of memory (plus the subsequent savouring of getting it right in terms of the relationship) is visible. Reading the text aloud confirms that these lines are the appropriate length for this ‘Beer poem’ and — perhaps — for these times.