HappenStance Press, 2005 - £3.00
Some poems take the top off your head (as Emily Dickinson nearly said) while others creep up on you more gently. Eleanor Livingstone’s are the less aggressive kind, but once they have crept up, they get under your skin and stick with you.
This chapbook looks good—with its classy cream paper, green cover and endpapers and rather enigmatic cover illustration of a king, half-swallowed by a splendidly scaled fish.
The intriguing title of Livingstone’s first pamphlet gives a hint of what lies within: she is a Scots poet and explores her heritage and culture “from the north sea winds that taste of salt” and a turbaned shopkeeper to the unexpected presence of Napoleon in the history of Fife. Her voice is friendly, measured and vivid; and the variety of subject matter leaves plenty of room for enjoyable surprises: body snatchers, teenage sexual etiquette, the switch to the Gregorian calendar, astronomic flights of fancy, the difficulties of parenting. She takes pleasure in the atmospheric vocabulary of her native land (“Earth birls round the sun”) and even in the weather: “Summer rain leaps out/ it hurls down bucketfuls of noise.”
I particularly enjoyed the fun of the Wild West extended image in ‘Last Chance’, the highly visual re-winding of time in ‘Restore Point’, the did-she-didn’t-she suspended narrative of ‘Station’, the tenderness and clarity of ‘Maiden Aunts’ with “wistfulness/ trailed from their shoulders” and the rhythmic, metaphorical ‘Rounders in the Dark’ which forms the haunting coda to the collection:
The circle shrinks
as players one by one
are summoned by a shout;
till in the gloaming none remains
to catch the whisper of a spinning ball
or breathless voices calling Out.
The Common Reader says of The Last King of Fife:
I enjoyed the rhythmic sound of ‘First Dance’. When read aloud the words danced along. It reminded me of learning Scottish Country Dancing in the High School gym:
Change partners, pause
then start again.
Keeping track of hands
Instead of feet, as if exams
were not enough
to mess our minds
we had to read
between the lines.
My favourite poems in this collection were about childhood memories. I loved ‘Tunnel Vision’ and ‘Rounders in the Dark’.