Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

Run by HappenStance Press

John Lynch – A Gap in the RailingsDark green, plainest of plain covers, with title and author in lower case and in black, so quite hard to read at all.

The Garlic Press, 2016     £5.00

Tenderness: father to daughter

This is one of those pamphlets you pick up innocently – just more poetry, after all – and then before you know it, one poem after another has brought tears to your eyes.

What’s the cause? Wars are started and continued almost exclusively by men. Our stereotypes, not unreasonably, connect aggression with the male of the species. So a photo of a man with a baby – or a group of men singing – suggests there’s hope for the world, another way to be. There’s an innocence about it, as well as a kind of clarity. And when male tenderness appears in a poem, it’s bigger than its simple self.

Many poems here are about the poet’s daughters, and always there’s a sense of vulnerability – as much in the parent as in the child. In ‘Lift’, the poet drops his daughter in town, ‘she doesn’t look back to wave’ and then

[ ... ] I spot her in the crowd,
her camel coat hood
amongst the bent heads and brollies,
there, and there, then not there. 

The situation, the language, the expression – all are as simple as you could imagine, and yet these few lines, and the last in particular, say all we know about love and loss. 

In ‘The Shed’ – that male territory of chisels and drill bits, a little girl follows her father inside. She must be very small because she tugs at his trouser leg to be lifted onto the bench. The description is plain, but we know precisely what's going through her father’s head:

I watch her fingers
tiptoe amongst the tools,

how they search the shavings
around the jack plane:

its mouth a slit
where the blade juts out. 

My favourite poems in A Gap in the Railings offer a wonderful example of how little poetry has to do with complex language techniques. ‘In the Cloakroom’ has me in tears again. It possesses no similes, no metaphors and barely even an adjective. Two words rhyme, however, and you will recognise them immediately you read the poem.

Sometimes a rhyme can seem like the answer to everything.

Helena Nelson