Judy, Out of the Box, Lynn Woollacott
Dempsey & Windle, 2020 £8.00
I really enjoyed this inventive, action-packed short collection by Lynn Woollacott. I was intrigued from the outset after reading the useful Foreword. This sets out the history of Punch and Judy, the theme behind the poems.
Punch and Judy shows are always rather chaotic, from what I remember as a child. Usually one character is hitting another or a lot of shouting is going on. This is captured perfectly in ‘Jumpers’ where Woollacott repeats ‘bounce’, ‘behind’ and ‘silly’ to conjure up the action:
On stage they leap onto pogo-sticks
bounce over chairs and the table
We are drawn into the scene in ‘The Guilty One’, which has stage directions to increase the drama: ‘(Enter Judy pushing Polly with her rolling pin. Polly is bound and gagged)’ and ‘(Pulls the lever to release the guillotine, it makes a loud thud.)’. The poem ‘Professor on the Door Incident’ becomes quite traumatic, with Judy falling into ‘the swirling black hole’, building on an astronomy image.
I loved the poem, ‘A Crocodile’s Predicament’, shaped in the form of a crocodile with longer lines representing legs:
It was the whipping wind that pushed and slapped, sucked
me up and threw me out like spitting fat from a sizzling sausage.
We’re taken into even more surreal territory with the poem ‘Judy’s Teeth Chatter’ where ‘Croc’s 69 teeth have turned into hatchlings’ that ‘squirm and wriggle’.
Sausages feature strongly in several poems. In ‘Smokin Puppets’, Punch is ‘eating burnt sausages cooked in the flames.’ In the prose poem ‘Miss Polly is Distracted’, Punch ‘makes Toby dizzy spinning hoola-hoops from a string of sausages he stole from a pub.’
And we are taken into Judy’s moods, fights and nightmares, but also learn about her soft side. For example, in ‘Sleeping Arrangements’
Judy dreams of flowery chaise longues
and blue velvet chesterfields.
These poems are a form of escape. Like Houdini, Judy is a survivor and in poem after poem she reappears, bringing laughter, tears and mayhem.