Thrown Up – Poems by Steven Bruce
Hunting Raven, 2016 £3.00
Poetry of abuse: why would you want to read it? [Helena Nelson]
I love the size of this pamphlet: precisely A6. You could slip it into your pocket and read it quietly on the train, though the contents are anything but quiet. It is brief and plain, and you need to read, and think about it. Face the facts. So it’s good that the pages are small, and the texts grab you, and then release you quickly.
It deals with a brutal childhood experience in language plain and simple. Why would you want to read about such pain?
Perhaps you wouldn’t. But it met a need in me. I couldn’t look away. Perhaps most importantly, it told me that in order to write like this, the child survived. There is abuse and there is survival:
Sometimes we are hurled towards the tit
and the breast milk we swallow
But we need it
it makes us
And I think for those who do know, all too well, what is being described, it is essential that the Cornflakes family conspiracy is exposed. In many houses, it is not so jolly:
It was a Sunday morning
cartoons played on the telly
in desperate waters.
These poems offer accounts. They just tell you what happened. There is no exaggeration. The reader is required neither to sympathise nor explain. Here is ‘Shifting’:
Her weed became whizz.
her whizz became heroin.
her heroin became methadone
for a while.
Her methadone became heroin,
codeine, amitriptyline and diazepam.
Her addiction became death.
We became orphans.
And on it goes,
one thing never the same.
Like the tides
There are experiences in poetry to which you become a witness. And it is essential that there be witnesses.
When Poetry Gives [Charlotte Gann]
Sometimes I emerge from reading troubling poetry feeling drained. This is not at all the same as feeling sad, heart-broken and/ or angry – then, I feel something has been given to me, shared. I feel privileged not manipulated.
And it’s privileged I feel reading this small brave book from Steven Bruce. It’s a wonderful format – literally like a pocket notebook, but not empty, waiting for your scribbles. No, already very full.
And what it’s full of is this poet’s exceptionally clear communication. I think clarity is such a gift between humans. And surprisingly rare.
The book makes no bones about its subject: it’s ‘billed’ as a collection ‘inspired by a troubled childhood’, and that childhood incorporates ‘violence, drug abuse, and the loss of parents at an early age’.
Here is just one extract – taken from the poem ‘Parentification’:
After sparking up
she slouched back
into the sofa
and mumbled something.
All I could make out
were the last three words,
love you son.
I could hear the methadone
oozing over her voice.
Her eyes were closing
and the rollie in her limp hand
was slowly sinking to the sofa.
I took it away and stubbed it out
in the ash tray.
There is nothing self-indulgent about this – anyway, you could argue, how could there be? But its straightness as a depiction, the care of its description, and the control of the writer now, reflecting back – and, indeed, of the child, simply doing what he saw needed to be done – all these move me so much more than a more inflamed account might.
On the one hand – in the left hand margin – there is all this terrible trouble; on the right, just those three small words – the only ones he could make out. Can they alone ever be enough? This pocket book explores this with all the force of its small frame.