These three pamphlets are all more conventional collections than those covered in part 1 of this set of pamphlet reviews. At times I mixed them up; when one poet talked about always losing scarves and then another wrote the line “sticking my arm in a coat and finding a scarf”, I thought, ah, there’s one of missing scarves! And yet all have something at least out of the ordinary to offer. Chrissy Williams covers a wide range of styles in a very few pages, and flips from the strongly affecting to the trivial at a turn; I finished this book both impressed and exasperated. For instance, ‘On Getting Boney M’s Cover Of ‘Mary’s Boy Child’ by Harry Belafonte Stuck In My Head’ is a verbatim conversation with a friend’s 6 year-old son, and probably almost as annoying as the concept in the title. But it leads on to a re-telling of ‘Terminator’ with sheep in the leading role (‘Sheep’) and then ‘Look, Vernon, Look’ which is Dylan Thomas taking the mickey out of Vernon Watkins during an air-raid. “Look, Vernon, look, there’s a bird in the building […] Soothe him. Give him a word. […] And if he hits the right note, O Vernon, O cariad/ then the roof, the whole sky, will come thundering in.” She has certainly demonstrated her range and I would look with interest for a more focussed work, because her writing at best is both sharp and surprising.
Donald Mackay is strong on Scottish nature subjects, as when he describes nettles “wrapping the house/ within their green electric wall” (‘At Hugh Mackay’s, Scourie’) or mayflies with “no space for flesh in such transparency/ only for sun” (‘Mayflies’). But he seems to me weaker on his chosen subjects; time, the family, portraits, parting. “Blacker than a blackout blind” (from ‘Terry’s) is not just bathetic, it’s shades of Blackadder, and I think this book attempts to cover too much; many rich and memorable lines get lost along the way, or dulled by a down-to-earth ending. I wanted him in a way to believe in himself more; not to explain or resolve every poem in the final line but to leave them somehow as taut as their opening images.
Ben Parker’s writing seems to have echoes of Calvino or Borges about it at first; a submarine strangeness. At times it felt a little like creative writing exercises with each poem assuming a different voice from the one before, and I found myself wondering ‘what is his subject?’; perhaps it is there in the dislocation of ‘The First Inhabitant of the Asylum,’ who “drags her feet in sterile corridors/ waiting for the rest of them to arrive.” But the poems are strong, and uncanny, with a rich vocabulary and a feel for the genuinely unexpected: “When arthritis closed around his hands/ he left the sea and made his way here […] mornings now he wakes with dry lips/ salt-blur glazing the window” (‘Church Flatts Farm’).
Geoff Sawers (b.1966) is a poet, historian and lettering artist. He learnt Welsh in the pubs of Swansea and consequently can be understood only by a handful of sympathetic listeners
(to read previous Magma blog reviews, please click on the ‘reviews’ tag immediately below)