Someone Else’s Street, Robbie Burton
HappenStance Press, 2017 £5.00
In the gaps
It was Easter weekend and Robbie Burton’s pamphlet stayed on my tongue like 70% chocolate. Strong and a bit dark, you thought about it before you took another square.
First, I noticed the negatives. In ‘Prayer’, she begins, ‘Let fish not be my name.’ Then I noticed a different kind of negative: omissions. In ‘Making Smoke’ a man teaches her how to explode a tunnel the size of a ‘doll’s grave’. ‘Other skills’, however, ‘he kept to himself’. So there’s an absence.
In ‘A Caveat to Good News’, she refers to the pause before that awkward phrase ‘one more thing’; to the sound of unwelcome rain when the builder is due (‘all being well’); and to silence after an important question (‘marry me?’). Pauses, silence, rain = communication before and after words – in the gaps.
I loved ‘Wire, the importance of’, in which ‘Nothing was seen of / glass chimneyed oil-lamps. / No methylated spirits spiked / the air. // No-one peeled an apple [ ... ].’ The whole poem is built around images of things that aren’t there.
Later on, details of a brass gong and a half-naked muscled man are part of her dreamy ‘First Date, Imperfectly Recalled’, but at the end of the poem she takes them back: ‘No / maybe that was later on.’
If her memory seems hazy, it’s also potent, and resists control. ‘Some Things Won’t Be Said Goodbye To’ is about a boat and a life she once had. When ‘people giving me lifts don’t follow my rules’, they take her past a canal, with memories she’d filed neatly away. On the next page she builds another poem out of what happens ‘When the plumber didn’t call’ (italics mine). In the gaps – when we don’t expect it – the memories invade.
Robbie Burton invites us to look at things ... not exactly sideways, not quite inside out. Maybe she invites us to come inside, then climb out of the frame. In ‘Dawn, Lizard Point’ we stand at the picture window where a man paddles a canoe, and fights with the tide until he exits, ‘and all that’s left in focus is the frame.’