Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

Run by HappenStance Press

Monkey Puzzle, William GilsonThe jacket is white with an oblong full colour painting as its central image. Above and below are the title and author's name respectively, in black lower case. The painting is an abstract, in yellows and browns. Hard to describe but involves brown half-triangles right down the left side, a brown band traversing from left to right at an upwards angle about the middle. A little square above that with another image inside it. A little clock or pocket patch on a chain to the bottom right, and some kind of contraption I can't make out.

Wayleave Press, 2018    £5.00

So well-crafted

And yes, the poems in this pamphlet are well crafted. They are in free verse that reverberates and lingers in the mind as Gilson moves effortlessly, it seems, and not too obviously, between past and present. He is constantly delving into the experiences that have shaped his consciousness, wondering how he came to be the person he is, how long he has left. He raises the mortality question with innocent directness in ‘Skater’, a poem in which, uncharacteristically, the title is an image:  

And somewhere else
along the skater’s path
is the point of my death,
which has not yet happened.

How will it happen?
What will it be like?

The directness is made palatable by the quizzical eye with which the narrator surveys his life.

The reason for this review’s title, however, lies elsewhere: it is a quote from Gilson himself. In ‘The Iliad’ he portrays himself reading the epic just before dawn, imagining himself as one of the Greek soldiers. All goes blood-thirstily well until he is hit by a spear, then:

What a terrible
beginning to this day!
My family, sleeping, how they
need me.

I am on the ground, my
black blood pools on the dust.
The shaft, so
smooth to touch, so
well-crafted —

And this happens repeatedly: musing on a big poetic theme is punctuated by a precise recollection of a made object. For example, there’s his son’s ‘red and white / plastic Fisher-Price tape player’ in the title poem — which rewards many re-readings. 

Elsewhere it is ‘his childhood bicycle, / that one with rubber flaps and a small / circular reflectors’. Or ‘the piano / on the other side of the room — pre- / World War One Newington upright.’ He continues:

               The tuner
I hired said it is shot, the larvae of a certain moth
have eaten the soft interstices
of the mechanism. (Why could that man
not tell me the species of moth, after
fifty years of piano tuning?)

Gilson would have known. You’re in safe hands with him.

Rob Lock