An Overtaking, Joan Johnston
Red Squirrel Press, 2016 £6.00
These delicate and spare poems often deal in captured moments: glimpses that open like windows. Most describe encounters with others, living or dead, present or remembered. These are warm and luminous moments.
For example, In the opening poem, ‘Lifer’, someone lends a watch: ‘He offered it / warm, face-up on his palm, / told me it was very accurate.’ Next, we meet ‘Ada in autumn’ . . . ‘coming down the lane from her overgrown allotment’. This piece, too, is only a handful of lines long. It captures one fleeting exchange, yet feels generous beyond this. As Ada fills our narrator’s coat pockets, rucksack, and arms ‘with bronze pears and green apples' saying ‘Here pet, have some of these’, the poem bestows similar enrichment on the reader. In ‘The Residents’, we meet Logan, who’ll ‘pour for both of us’ ‘in the quiet tea-room’, and endearingly
[begins] his story
where many would end it
– by saying Thankyou.
Thankyou for listening.
These encounters, to me, have an inherently luminous quality, ‘accumulating around our feet like pearls’ (actually a description of hailstones in ‘Sheltering’).
Dictionary definitions for the word ‘overtake (v.)’ are included at the start of the pamphlet. The first reads ‘i. catch up with and pass while travelling in the same direction’. And that’s just how these poems feel to me: an invitation to seize what companionship is available, even if it only lasts a moment.
One of my favourites describes not managing to paint ‘my Dead Father’s Portrait’. It sits opposite the pamphlet’s title poem, which seems to mark her father’s passing: ‘where it seems I / am to go on ahead, leave you to rest / in your own significant year.’ The facing poem ends: ‘I just can’t catch / the look of him at all’. This might seem sad but somehow it doesn’t. We know there will be other rich encounters.