Hyphens and a Hare
The Currying Shop,
Hazel B. Cameron
(24pp, £4.00, Imago)
somewhere is january,
Mario Petrucci (32pp, £4.95, Perdika Press)
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
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'
development but nothing new
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
if it were me
- 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'
always that sun
whose light little
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.
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
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:
that you say
I can't quite
lined with steel
parts of a bridge when the March wind
© Jane Routh 2008