Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

Run by HappenStance Press

The Self-Forgetting Place, Rob Lock
Garlic Press, 2015  £5.00

Poems that know themselves as written objects (Helena Nelson)

I don’t exactly know how to explain it, but sometimes as I read a poem, I become aware of the writer’s hand writing it, or someone’s hand at least, with a pen or a pencil or (as in one case here) chalk. It’s a slightly eerie sensation. A sort of a tingle through the paper transmitted through my left hand (because I am left-handed – for you, it might be the right).

So here, in ‘Prison Visit’, the poet is on a journey when a row of poplars reminds him of being back at school himself, with ‘the sharpened pencils’ standing upright on the window sill. All it took was that row of poplars and he’s back in that room, with the pencil sharpener, and then the summer term and the transition to ink – a transition that was never wholly comfortable. The making of letters with awkward nibs left him with a curious feeling

            of being (if only I had known the word) compromised

and yet he is still on his journey and drives on, and he is going to make a prison visit which somehow makes the word ‘compromised’ take additional resonance, as does the word ‘betraying’:

                             over there a line of willows
betraying the presence of a stream

I can almost feel him writing 'line of willows' with a scratchy nib. Such complexity of experience and suggestion – a wonderful piece of writing.

In ‘Emphasis’, which I can’t do justice to here, the teacher is writing on (I assume) a blackboard, in chalk.

In ‘In January’, someone is ‘At his desk / listing rhymes for wings’.

In ‘For the Fallen’, the perfect final poem, the words are ‘in blue-black Quink’. A name has been scratched out in the family Bible because of presumed disgrace, and the author puts it back. Such a beautiful name. I can feel and see it in colour. ‘Violet’.

Ordinary Love (Charlotte Gann)

This collection seems to me alive with both love, and the ordinary. It opens with a poem of acts of kindness – unsung heroes. People who do not hit the headlines:

A youth – who could be named – stayed in last night,
finished his essay and applied to train for social work.
     (‘On the Other Hand’)

And even when Lock conjures the young poet, Keats, he is ‘At his desk / listing rhymes for wings’; then, gazing out to ‘where Tom lies / freshly buried underneath / the falling snow’. This poem (‘In January’) ends beautifully domestically:

in comes Brown
between whose eaves
he lives

‘My wife’s cat died last week and she’s upset, / reminders everywhere,’ starts what appears to be a cat-poem, ‘Boots’. But there’s more to it than that:

            and I would like
to think that she will feel the same, not too much
more, when my turn comes.

The poem is gentle, tender, truthful. The narrator likens his own arrival on the scene to that of a rescue cat: ‘Years later she responded to a plea, / doubling as an offer, and did much the same / for me.’ Beautiful.

As many of these poems are. They seem deceptively simple, almost plain. But they have a warmth and depth – a lived-in quality. ‘Sometimes there’s a slightly ragged edge / between the bright bit and the void’ describes a ‘half moon’ in ‘No Balance at All’. I especially enjoy that ‘ragged edge’ and ‘the bright bit’. These seem deliberately unpoetic – despite the subject – and pave the way beautifully for the (to me) touchingly homely:

as if a sugar paper disc, folded tight,
had been gently torn in two.'

Levity is also never far away – which adds to the slightly ruffled note I like. For example, ‘Box’ is a poem honouring the longevity of a cardboard box passed down through a family. And ‘Gumboots’ deftly captures unacknowledged love at an allotment – from ‘Geoff two plots away’ – before our protagonist dashes home ‘to deadlines, teenage angst, brown envelopes’.