Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

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Telling titles

Sandsnarl, so we’re told in the preface, is ‘a settlement steeped in sand’; where it comes from is ‘a matter of tall tales’. Here, haunting illustrations and playful poetry combine like a storybook to create an imaginary world.

Google the word ‘sandsnarl’, and you’ll discover that it’s an amalgamation of the names of two toy characters from the Transformers franchise. The video influence is clear in the way all the poem titles read as scene summaries. For example:

Two Makers of Sand Toys, Both Skilled and Ancient, Disconcerted and Dark-Browed, Open Their Doors for Business at the Same Hour on the Same Side-street

Prosaic as they are, the capitalisation transforms these long titles into poetry. Adjectives become personified, almost characters themselves (‘Racked and Red-Eyed in a Sad Scrag of Waistcoat [...]’). Wryly humorous at times, verbs shape-shift into possible nouns, so ‘The Drysalter of Sand Presses His Lips to Your Ear’ becomes a nod to the publication itself.

These telling titles introduce an arresting cast of characters, all economically defined by role rather than name. Some we recognise — the roboteer, smuggler, astronomer. Others are more obscure — a limnologist. The disorienting juxtapositions and intriguing amalgams (the ‘Sand Orphan’; the ‘Sandsinger’) are succinctly evocative. Words like ‘Sandskinshifter’ contain a narrative within a word.

The poems in Sandsnarl, like the contents page itself, read as a cross between fantasy script and dream narrative. They ‘eavesdrop, extract, sift’, we’re told. Titles like ‘An Argument About Sand’ and ‘Attempts to Describe One Who Lived Here and Who May Have Been a Ghost or a Djinn or an Extraordinary Feature of the Weather’ give a flavour of this.

Although gaming and animated toys are not my territory, the creative imagining is wholly successful, and the interpretation leaves much for the reader to ponder. We may question what it all means, but as one of the ‘Two Makers of Sand Toys’ concludes about the things they sell:

                      each exists
to make you guess why it exists,
then reels his breath in.
Damned fool question.

Enter into it.

Lorna Dowell