The Anglesey Leg—Jo Field
HappenStance Press, 2015 £3.60
In poetry books, size matters. On my shelves I have collections, within which I once found poems to enjoy. However, as I turned the pages each poem was papered over by the one that followed; at the end I often could not recall a particular one to return to. The books sit there; their spines reproach me. I am five foot two. My even shorter grandfather used to say to me as a child, ‘All good things come in little packages’. I am drawn to the miniature.
Hence, perhaps, my preference for pamphlets, such as Jo Field’s The Anglesey Leg, or Alan Hill’s slender collection—somewhere between a book and a chapbook—Gerontion (also from HappenStance). When you reach the end of either one, the first poem calls you back for a second read. You can flip through and re-read, ensuring that the content and meaning is immediately reinforced.
Jo Field’s brilliant trick is to take one of those odd facts of history which comes with a searing image: of the Earl of Anglesey’s leg amputated after the battle of Waterloo. She relates the story with concision and wit, puncturing the faux-nobility of an apparently nerveless soldier while ennobling the lost leg and its replacements. Its nine short stanzas could not have been published in any other form, unless we still lived when chapbooks and ballads were sold in the streets.
I sent my copy of Alan Hill’s Gerontion to a friend who was bed-ridden and in the last few weeks of his life; his daughter told me he chuckled all day. I bought another copy, to keep. In a sequence of sixty tankas in a veritable pocket-sized format, he nails those moments of frailty which accompany ageing but which can be blessed with the insights we spend our youth and middle years searching for in vain. As with The Anglesey Leg, the poetic form and scale of the object are a perfect match and Jo Field’s account of the Marquess of Anglesey and his ‘heroic limb’ will never go the way of poems in most of the collections on my shelf.