How to Wear Grunge, Ruth Stacey
Knives Forks And Spoons Press, 2018 £7.00
Giving the reader a share in the story
Ruth Stacey’s understanding of how a reader might read a narrative sequence — asking questions, interrupting, arguing with the poet — underpins this pamphlet. The narrative sequence is challenging; it’s fractured, post-modern, unreliable. The context is unfamiliar too, unless you already know the punk music scene in 1980’s Seattle, specifically The Gits, and singer Mia Zapata (murdered in 1993). Stacey’s poems offer a twenty-first century parallel to this world via followers who adopt punk style.
In the five-line opening poem (‘First Seen Following a Link Online’), we get a first glimpse of the protagonist: ‘[…] beauty even if the subject is long dead: here/ she is staring out of the monitor.’ Then there’s a three-line space and the italicised question ‘Who was she?’
That’s my question too.
The third piece, a prose poem titled ‘Who Was She?’, is followed by a double question:
Continue to find out who she was?
Respect a dead person and don’t pry?
Just what I was thinking. It’s as though Stacey stands back from her poems to share the reader’s line of thought. She’s aware this is the tipping point for the pamphlet: will the reader abandon puzzling out the story? Or push on, despite qualms?
Turn the page and ‘Her Name’ provides some answers. She is Carey Hunter, aged 20, ‘Eyes: Fox-coloured. I’m certain, fox-russet, copper.’ But her address is no more than ‘Somewhere familiar, cold snap in the air, city buzzing’, and beneath the poem the italics of the reader still niggle:
Was any of that true? (Be cynical, doubt the stories.)
We’re in a triangle: poet, protagonist, reader. Or: the page, the story, the questions. It’s a pamphlet in three dimensions. This structure allows the reader to argue and criticise and demand answers (‘Who are you talking about: tell me the real truth!’).
By anticipating the reader’s quizzical response, Ruth Stacey holds attention because that attention is an integral part of the poem.‘Such a waste, she was too young to be wasted,’ says the reader, nearing the final poem.
Yes, I am drawn in.
D A Prince