The Weeping Cufflinks, Tom Sharp
thepoetryofitall, 2020 £7.00
Multiple appearances and leaves on the lines
The supporting literature with this pamphlet describes it as a ‘Jacobean pamphlet for plague times.’
However, The Weeping Cufflinks seems to be a long poem about the life of its central character, Toby. He’s a man who may not be tired of London yet, but he’s definitely tired of life.
He’s ‘hung-eyed’, Middle-mazed’, ‘Munch-howling’ and ‘Schoolsplit’. He ‘works too hard, / his family love him for it’ and he ‘wears indecision / like a twenty-five pound Jermyn Street shirt’.
However, what stands out most for me is the use of recurring detail. Like, for example, the London transport network, with Toby shuttling hither and thither on the Circle, District Line, Bakerloo and Central Lines. As I write, it has been four months of no Underground use. I almost feel jealous of Toby.
There are also multiple appearances of certain characters, such as ‘The Dudman’, who continually pours poison in Toby’s ear. ‘The Dudman’ is a terrible person with a voice of ‘smouldering corn-stubble’. He’s the kind of person who says ‘Poor never-Toby, maybe you worry / this isn’t your time eh? Yes?’.
But it's the multiple Tobys in Scene VI that scare me the most and have the greatest impact. Anyone who has spent any time in the media world will recognise the tableau of multiple Tobys who are ‘all markedly different, / diversity is so important now-a-days’. There’s ‘A Toby presenting, a Toby pouring tea. / One Toby chairing, three Tobys drinking tea.’
Another recurring motif is leaves. They make their presence known in almost every scene, and are indented to act as a brief aside or moment of pause, for example in Scene VIII:
On screen for a second
between chyrons of sly-swarming digits
a block of green leaf, functionally fonted
THIS MEANS A GREAT DEAL.
And this does mean a great deal. By using the language and formatting of ye olden days, but setting the poem in the here and now, Sharp shows us how little we’ve really moved on (even with the Tube now back on track) as we watch one man being ground down by the work and world around him.
It feels timely.