Linda Black on Ian Parks and Anna Robinson on Hylda Sims
A Paston Letter
Rack Press £4.00
The Rack, Kinnerton, Presteigne, Powys LD8 2PF
Ian Parks seems to attract oxymoronic statements from reviewers, such as 'powerful reticence' and 'tender severity'. This may be something to do with his subject matter, which is love.
Earlier this year Flux Gallery Press published Love Poems 1979 - 2009, a collection of more than 70 love poems. "For me," states Parks in an interview for Dream Catcher magazine, "there's an intimate connection between the condition of being in love and the sort of situations or states from out of which poems tend to emerge".
Parks' recent slim pamphlet, A Paston Letter published by Rack Press, a sequence of thirteen (unlucky for some) poems in the voice of Margery Paston, tracing her thwarted love for Richard Calle, is inspired by the 15th Century text 'The Paston Letters'. The period is that of the Wars of the Roses. We learn that Margery, prevented from marrying Richard because of his social position, is awaiting an arranged marriage. A letter from her lover telling of her sorrow and his pain ('it is to me a death to hear that ye be entreated otherwise than you ought to be' ) serves as an epigraph and urges her to 'let it be burnt, for I would no man would see it'. As with Hardy, love is doomed from the start.
It is no surprise therefore to read of Parks' admiration for Hardy: "I love the way his poems seem suspended between two tenses; the way that the past is implicit in the present and, because of this, relationships are always somehow provisional or, at the very least, compromised . . . he pursues the ideal of romantic love and yet feels obliged to question its validity".
The poem begins in the lyric manner with a rhyming couplet and a strong rhythm; 'Three white roses - suns in splendour - / have their place linked on your shoulder'. The form is varied, and though this can be inventive, I found myself wondering why and how this serves the poem. The setting up of rhyming couplets does not continue, though there is much effective use of internal rhyme, half-rhyme and assonance. The third stanza begins with the last line of the second, 'The adder slithers out to nudge my hair', as with a crown of sonnets, though this happens only the once, seemingly a device allowing the writer to continue the subject of hair and 'its seventeen years' growth let down'.
Negative omens surround Margery: fallen apples - 'their distant thud'; on the bridge by St Paul's 'three wizen objects thrust on spikes'; the 'blistered fruit' she eats, as well as the slithering adder. Margery is the victim of her era and her circumstances - an ill-fated heroine whose life 'is one of absences.' The division in a country 'with two kings' reflects the division within the family, 'the talk of husbands / grown ominous', and Margery's inner conflict and suffering:
And like two kings
my suitors strive,
finding no peace
until one is dead.
Now England's fate
and mine are woven
with the selfsame thread.
From the fifth poem in the sequence, line lengths are shorter - the cadence feels less fluid than in the first four stanzas, where the form works well, resulting in the occasional over emphasis of end rhymes.
I am struck by the several mentions of 'stone', an unyielding, impervious and unchanging material (save by the erosion of centuries):
The women carry
two hot stones
to warm a place
inside my bed
This is scant comfort for Margery, alone and pining for her lover. In the penultimate poem their unborn children 'crouch in stone around / the base of a tomb / supporting the weight / of two effigies':
Carved suns and roses
is cushioned with stone'.
A Paston Letter is a haunting, elegiac poem, a dramatic monologue in which there is little solace, reminding us, as does Richard's letter, 'this is a painful life we lead'. It takes us back to a period in English history when women's lives were not their own - indeed a tragedy to lament:
From a confused
tangle of wild briars
I watch as birds converge
in stillness. Stillness can purge
everything, except desires,
into a greater stillness.
Review by Linda Black July 2010
Hearing Eye £7.00 (or £12.00 with C.D.)
Reaching Peckham is a book length sequence telling the story of a group of 3 disparate Peckham citizens. It is voiced by a narrator called Lorna, who is single and runs the local drop-in centre - hence her role as the one who can know all the others.
The others are - Oliver, a shy, slightly fat, local poet and Mehmet - a 'young offender' to whom Lorna is teaching literacy and life skills.
There are other characters woven into this mix - some based in realism - like Yula, Oliver's Goth girlfriend and Lorna's unnamed lover(s); some not - such as Blake's Angels and Meg Peach - they float in and out of the sequence.
There are 3 introductory poems before Lorna's voice takes over - one of these refers to her as a 'first person/ unwrapping them…/ a landscape…/ a story…'
Not all the poems in the book are voiced by Lorna, the sequence is a little like a scrapbook or anthology, with the others getting to have a voice too, in between Lorna's insights. This leads to a more rounded sense of who the others all are because Lorna is human and not the perfect narrator.
The sequence works within a tradition of urban poetry that regards cities as peopled landscapes. It is people and their relationships with each other and the things
they surround themselves with that are as important (if not more) than the surrounding landscape.
Peckham, like many South London suburbs, has its open spaces, and these are present in the poem, but it is the closed spaces in cities that often make its citizens create their own interior landscapes. This is well reflected in the sequence - sometimes dreamlike in their interpretation of the mundane - such as in Deus Ex, Lorna is having a bath…
porous white clouds
cling round my knees, my breasts
the air is rich with heat...
or in Lost and Found - walking in the park feeling lonely -
in the early hours they drop by
humming tunes I can't quite catch
disappear at daylight
my head is full of space
The sequence is witty and moving and has a sad ending I won't spoil.
Hylda Sims is a musician as well as a writer and Reaching Peckham was written as a jazz piece and is also available on C.D. with music from the Boudicca Band. You can get either the book or C.D as a separate entity for £7.00 or buy both for £12.00 from Hearing Eye Books http://www.hearingeye.org