Hides, Hyphens and a Hare

The Currying Shop,
Hazel B. Cameron (24pp, £4.00, Imago)
somewhere is january
, Mario Petrucci (32pp, £4.95, Perdika Press)
Cat's Cradle
, Genista Lewes (48pp, £8.00, Overstep Books)


One of the pleasures of a jaunt to Fife to catch up with friends at StAnza is that you can also catch up with Scottish pamphlets at the Pamphlet Fair.  Okay, you could look at the website instead (www.scottish-pamphlet-poetry.com), but give me anyday a large roomful of stalls displaying everything from handstitched booklets, elegantly designed leaflets, to photocopied and stapled instant publications, with half a dozen brief readings and the publishers/makers happy for you to look at and talk about the work.

Hazel Cameron administers the Scottish Pamphlet Poetry website, and she's just published The Currying Shop
, poems which interweave family and socal history, with a focus on the Renfrewshire industry of tanning and curing, where (she quotes Brian Jones here) 'History stares you in the face at every turn'.

Pamphleteers encourage each other; try things out. Hazel Cameron's been able to include a couple of photographs she took in a contemporary leather works, of which she writes in 'The Currying Shop'

     A modern development but nothing new
          behind concrete and melamine, the same
               distinctive odour of my ancestors' living.

The back cover of her pamphlet has a blood-spill at the top and a smart leather belt at the bottom, which should have led me to expect a part-funny, part-horrific cow's point-of-view in 'Food for Thought', which opens 'So this is what life comes to - the seat of an Aston Martin.' But not all the poems concern themselves with working leather: most of them touch on subtler matters of inheritance and tradition, such as 'An Education' - a poem which lightly condenses a daughter's understanding of the true cost of her education to her mother.

I think this pamphlet is a first publication - at least, no others are listed. Pamphlets are also good for poems that don't fit into a book, but have their own integrity: Mario Petrucci's somewhere is january being one of these. While an English pamphlet fair would be a much lesser event than the Scottish one, things are looking up down here. Perdika Press pamphlets, set on high quality cream paper with darker cream covers, are a delight to handle.

The pamphlet's very different from Heavy Water
.  And that's the point; the pamphlet's an arena for exploration. You have to be able to see beyond what Peter Sansom's called the 'look at i!' use of lowercase without punctuation in all but the opening piece (which is, naturally, simpler to read) to get into these encounters. These are pieces for the page, asking the reader to see other possibilities contained within a word. Here's the first example you meet, in the opening stanzas of the second poem, 'tulip'

     repeats as
     if it were me
     -rely one   pouring

     upwards to melt
     light   with

- an example it took me a while to decipher, maybe because I was reading aloud. The hyphen's usually placed as it is in 'solace is never'

     too late: always that sun
     tears cloud from c-
     loud like child

     left with paper
     whose light little
     hands turn sheet to


Short lines, three-line stanzas, often a single line to close, broken words - all serve to slow down the reading and make the reader present in the moment of the poem.


In Genista Lewes's first book, what I have to get beyond is the shiny paper Overstep Books have used, to find that she has a range of subject matters, grouping together poems on daughters, on a death, on works of art - yes, the usual subject matters, but with some refreshing approaches. Take works of art: 'Art History Lesson' opens conversationally

     No one quite likes to ask what the swan is doing
               the slow insinuation
     of his outstretched neck
               between those ivory breasts

managing to leave everything unsaid, until the understated: 'Leda smiles'.

There's a similarly chatty tone in the poem 'Whistler Exhibition' which she addresses to her mother: 'You would have liked the Whistler'. And from a Joseph Beuys title 'How to explain paintings to a dead hare' she leaps sideways to the hare itself:

     Resist the explicit

     what's that you say
     I can't quite hear

     those hare's ears     tensile     lined with steel
     hum like parts of a bridge when the March wind
     buffets and billows.

               © Jane Routh 2008