Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

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Goose Fair Night – Kathy PimlottThe cover is dark blue, night sky blue, with a fairground taking up two thirds of the space, colourful and more suggestion then detail, but a big ferris wheel and roundabouts clear. The books title is win large white irregular caps, like a child's lettering. At the very top in neat small caps POEMS BY KATHY PIMLOTT.

The Emma Press, 2016        £6.50

Noticing the invisible (Josephine Corcoran)

Kathy Pimlott is someone you’d want on a crime scene because she notices things, and the final, possibly autobiographical, poem in the collection gives us clues as to how this observant nature has come about. Left alone for five minutes, the child in the poem is asked to ‘look for five unusual things’ in the parent’s absence and Pimlott supplies dense, delicious details of what might be invisible to others on a seemingly ordinary ‘back street of workshops and offices’. The mention of workplaces is telling: Pimlott notices that people work, something that poems frequently make me suppose is a rare occurrence, and factories, shops, and occupations are specifically named here. And she notices how a job changes a person too. In the sequence of poems about Pimlott’s maternal grandmother, Enid, who worked as a domestic servant, we’re given hints about the ways a person’s job might shape, for example, their world view and their choice of partner.

The poet names real places properly too. In ‘All the Way Here’, she titles a sequence of six poems with the names of streets and disticts: ‘Wensleydale Road’; ‘Seven Dials’. These poems are about houses Pimlott has lived in (what a terrific idea for a set) and are arranged in the centre of the pamphlet like houses on either side of a street. There’s a stanza of three lines for the floor of each house and we’re invited into the most intimate spaces behind each door. 

With equal precision, Pimlott observes how young women out on a hen night in Soho ‘teeter in deeleyboppers, sashed’. They get ‘trashed / on Flaming Sambucas in the afternoon’ and mean every word on the karaoke, but Pimlott, who notices what other people miss, has seen them wheeling their suitcases to the station the morning after

wanting their mums, longing to be
in slippers, made a proper cup of tea

You suspect Kathy Pimlott would gladly make them one.

Getting to know Enid
(Helena Nelson)

I specially like the Enid poems. Enid is unforgettable, like all the best grandmothers. There are 6 Enid poems in this pamphlet of 22, spread out through the rest. Even their titles are irresistible. Here – be tantalised: 

Enid and the Peas
Enid and the Toad
Enid and Elizabeth
Enid and the Handsome Devil
Enid and the Present Dangers
Enid and Me

The last of these is, as you might guess, a kind of culmination. Our grannies say stuff to us when we are small – they give us details from their real lives. Without us, who will ever remember? Without ‘Enid and Elizabeth’ who would know, for example, that Enid was the child who had to check on the ‘poorly Elizabeth’, the failing baby of the family:

It was Enid’s job to hold the mirror close

to the baby’s mouth and check for the bloom
of breath on its glass and when it stayed clear
to run as fast as fast to let their mother know.

This really happened, didn’t it? You know it did. And Enid bore the memory all her life, and passed it to Kathy Pimlott, her granddaughter, who put it in a poem. And that granddaughter writes good poems. You can tell this is true just from the quotation above – the stanza break between ‘close’ and ‘to the baby’s mouth’, and the line break between ‘bloom’ and ‘breath’ – their position and pacing are perfectly, movingly right.

‘Never, said Enid, ever swallow chewing gum, / it will strangle your kidneys and your heart’. Oh darling Enid. You are all our grandmothers. You are the ‘Mistress of madeira, piccalilli, / the scotch egg’. You bear past tragedy with stoicism and delight. ‘Old people shouldn’t sleep / with the young you say, it drains their vigour’. It didn’t drain your granddaughter’s vigour. Your vigour, her vigour, are startlingly wide awake in these poems.