Declare, Geraldine Clarkson
Shearsman Chapbooks, 2016 £6.50
Magic and logic
The poems in this pamphlet seem to me surreal, in an interesting, well-managed way. I struggle intellectually to follow their twists and turns; but emotionally they communicate. And that dislocation seems part of the story.
‘His Wife in the Corner’ I note won the Poetry London Competition 2015. I do not pretend to understand this poem, but I feel it. It starts, to me, vividly:
When he had finished offering me the world
and stretched up to switch on the light
and looked back with a curious green glow
in his eyes…
I’m interested by the point of view. And then it seems it is ‘me’ he looks back on:
lying there replete,
a jetted calf, pinioned, a vodka bottle
nodding in the hollow between us
Nothing quite gets straightened out. But the sense of it I feel. (It’s clever, to my mind, too, having that title – so we have a wife and corner lurking in our minds, making this scene even eerier, more sinister.) Things seem clear and unclear in equal measure. As with a Chagall painting, I don’t mind. Clarkson’s language is not laden – it’s precise.
And then the second stanza – seven lines, as opposed to the eight of the first – kicks in, taking us off into further abstraction with ‘I felt like I was 14 and had raced in my lunch hour / to the store with the jade velvet jacket in the window’. I adore this specificity. And it’s made all the more glorious by two further twists:
[ ...] only to be met in the lobby by the assistant
in civvies, saying ‘we don’t open on Tuesdays’
and his wife in the corner dressed sharp and rocking violently,
her gorgeous green lapels rising and falling with mirth.
Here’s the wife! Here’s the corner! This poem for me is one big adventure – and it remains so to its very last line, where those lapels and that mirth strike me as perfect – as though I have finally acclimatised to the poem’s own magic and logic.