Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

Run by HappenStance Press

Jennifer Copley – Vinegar and Brown PaperA5 cover of pamphlet, with title in tall black caps top quarter, centred. Author's name in black, smaller caps in the bottom third. In between a coloured inks drawing of one corner of an old table, with a bottle of what looks like Sarson's Vinegar from the shape, and some sheets of brown paper.

Like This Press, 2016     £6.00

Inside information

This pamphlet worms its way into your heart quickly. It’s a set of prose poems or stories – it doesn’t explicitly define itself – but each triggers either a memory or a sense of something you feel you ought to know already. The collection title is a clue – when Jack fell down the hill that he and Jill went up, he broke his crown, as you know, and the treatment was ‘vinegar and brown paper’. If you’re anything like me, you learned this and accepted it, before it even had any clear meaning. But the characters from the early rhymes are still there in your head: shadow figures. Reading this pamphlet is like meeting people you once knew, though they’re not quite like you expected. You glimpse them, rather than see them – but it’s the sense of fumbled recognition that creates the curious and original attraction of this publication.  

Take Jack, for example. Not Jack from Jack and Jill (who are ‘the twins’ in this publication) but another Jack, a Jack who ‘was so thin, his friends never knew if they’d seen him or not. He was insubstantial as a net curtain. When the windows were open his wife had to peg him down.’ He is a snatch, a familar. He fits into place when you hear about his wife – ‘the size of two armchairs rolled together but her skin was soft as cream’. It’s just a glimpse of them you get, before you move on to Tarts and the Queen of Hearts who is baking them, using Ye Olde Royale Recipes when ‘that knavish lad from the stables’ comes in with a message.

These are scraps -- snapshots -- not whole stories. You don't need the whole story. You know it already.

You have privileged information, or at least the child inside you does. 

This is subtle and delightful writing. Hand-cut on thick, grainy brown paper. And there are pictures.

Helena Nelson