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The angel in the detail

There are only eleven poems in this collection. It’s hard to believe. I came away convinced I’d read a whole book. The poems are so perfectly-wrought they open up, for me, immeasurably more than most. And part of the pathos is undoubtedly – as with the best poetry – in the subtlety of tiny details.

Here, for me – like Roland Barthe’s punctum – detail can be the thing that pricks. And often such details seem comical, however ‘serious’ the poem’s larger frame. The work can, at times, seem almost cartoon-like in this respect. I think it’s a great strength.

There’s the ‘Highland Cow’ who ‘lifted her lump of a head’. That word ‘lump’ is perfect, of course, literally. But this poem is an anthem to difference: to being ‘in the wrong world, with majesty’. The poet invisibly trawls the useless lump a person who’s ‘different’ can feel, as well as the painfully delicate lumpiness of all that goes on inside that person’s head.

Similarly, towards the end of ‘Tiger, Tiger’, a girl (trapped in a tiger’s body – it’s a long, perfectly-rendered ‘Fairy Tale’) – ‘worked out her poems in her great, beautiful head’. Again, this has extraordinary tenderness, a tenderness only amplified by its context.

‘Drain’ is the most delicious account of having your drains unblocked. Its tiny little reference to ‘this weary house’ – this moment of personification – throws the whole poem, for me, into much greater relief. And finally – because I haven’t room – I have to mention ‘her ladybirds’ in ‘Follower’. I don’t want to spoil the poem. (I don’t want to spoil any of them.) Suffice it to say, a girl sits upon a lap until she feels held, for now, for long enough. Here’s how it ends:

The child and I sit as the afternoon yellows and crumbles,
and she is so patient that I fear for my mind, but at last
she slips down from my lap and goes to find her ladybirds.

Charlotte Gann