Mr Larkin on Photography and Other Poems,
       NS ThompsonIt's a tall portrait pamphlet, taller than A5 and a little thinner. The background colour is eggshell blue. The text on the cover is located pretty much in the middle but left justified. Title, lower case, is black with main words having a cap initial. So we have Mr Larkin on Photography in black and below that, smaller and lower case italic 'and Other Poems'. The author's name, in black is just below half way down the cover. The title of the press is very small and in white right at the bottom. No image.

Red Squirrel Press, 2016      £6.00

Burst of freedom

Many of these poems are formal and intriguing. They’re clever, deft and moving. Take the sestina ‘The Women in Delft’. I enjoy this poem, could spend time pursuing its thoughts around corners, ‘The surfaces still keep / Us guessing’:

Are we – the viewers – meant to have a hand
In them and come to see what artfully

Has been concealed?

The poems too are often funny. Here’s the start of ‘Adam and Eve Take an Allotment’:

The figure in the shadows stared at Eve
And shook the beans inside the bag. ‘Believe
Me, crops of serpentini beans [… ]

I enjoy this work, admire it. And am moved too – by ‘The Woodshed’, ‘Face at the Window’, ‘Gurney: at the Front’.... But nothing quite prepares me for the surprise of the final eleven pages.

Entitled ‘Youth: An Abstract Expression’, this longer, largely-prose poem consists of seven sections: ‘Large White Square’, ‘Pacific: Placid Blue’, and so on. It draws you into a world entirely on its own terms – I think, in part, a boyhood in just(?)-post-war Britain.

Here’s one extract, from the opening section:

   Outside among the lamps, a sea of golden streetlamps, a young boy looks up at the stars. A car moves around him, but he is still.

   Settled in the back seat of a car, unsettled by the space around him, a small creature settled in bed considers the lonely space that weighs so little and so much around him […]

Somehow this freedom (from form, from line break) seems to open a world where kerbstones take on enormous proportions, where the new-build estate breathes life into a war-torn past (but things are almost too still). To me, it’s incredibly vivid:

   People are odd shuffling mysteries clutching plastic bags, suitcases, cardboard boxes. They gather in a bus station, the drunk, the man going home from his inexplicable shift, a woman reading a paperback. A single girl.

A whole life seems folded in its lines. With its rich detail, and own layered reality, it spans a lengthy coming-of-age before ending movingly ‘in the real world at last’.

Charlotte Gann

Latest news

When it comes to pamphlet comps, what’s the choice?

A good number of competitions are currently running in the UK. The Poetry Business International Book & Pamphlet Competition is perhaps the best known – and most coveted – but new ones spring up (and down) all the time. Here’s a list to get you started. (Please nudge us if you know of any we’ve missed.)

Read more ...