Like Other Animals, Lois Williams
HappenStance Press 2017 £5.00
The unexpected leap
I was interested in the way most of Lois Williams’ titles belie the content of her poems. Rather than advertising themselves, each seems to feature a relatively bland statement or observation.
Take the poem from which the pamphlet is named. As a title, ‘At the Town Centre Pond’ is low-key, and the first couplet continues in this vein. ‘A young father lifts his baby / from the circle of pushchairs’. This is a round pond; the reader is given an image. But it’s not until the second stanza that a couple of words tip me into the poem’s mystery. The father wears a sleeveless t-shirt, and what the poet notes is ‘the full composure of his arms’. ‘Composure’ is perfect; it does the trick. Unexpectedness continues. A pretended water-brush by the father is almost a christening (‘fake-dip’ is good); goldfish tails have ‘semaphore … encoded in their tails’; and encircling mothers warily notice what’s going on ‘like other animals’.
While this poem depicts an intense parental relationship, most pieces in the collection concern either loss or the provisional quality of life. The unexpected may be introduced by interplay with animals or by an unusual word.
In ’On Diagnosis & The Need to Cry’, for example, the word ‘mesovarium’ occurs in the first line. Similarly, in ‘Off-Season, First Snow of the Year’ the snow begins to ‘anatomise’, while ‘Traffic’ – which could hardly, as a title, be less rousing – makes the switch through information rather than vocabulary, ‘the children / I didn’t have’.
The exception that proves the rule occupies the pamphlet’s central spread, a poem titled ‘On The Occasion of Not Having Gone to the Same Physician as Angelina Jolie’. The poem is prominent for its strong, angered mood prompted by the word ‘castrated’ (once again, at the end of its first line). When used to refer to a human rather than an animal, this term is clearly applied insensitively, as anyone remotely aware of the power of words would understand. Black humour turns circumstance into a situation comedy piece that one would dearly like the arrogant young gynaecologist to read.
Elsewhere, the leap between the expected and the unexpected is in itself a part of these unusual and haunting poems.