Review in The Friend (February 2010)
by RV Bailey
Window on the Square by Alice Beer. Soundswrite Press. ISBN 978-0-9550786-3-7 £3.
Alice Beer is a one-off. She is not like any other poet I can think of:
she has a totally individual voice, a voice of simple, unassuming, unselfconscious Quaker authority. She writes about the square where she lives, whose moods and modes and seasons she can observe through her window; and she writes also about some of her own experiences ‘In Sheltered Accommodation’, and she looks, with a gaze as clear as window glass, on the lessons of living alone and of confronting her future.
A Quaker for many years, her voice is both equable and passionate: she is a. poet of wide sympathy and innate simplicity. Window on the Square is a private perspective of a public place, De Monfort Square in Leicester. The ingredients are what you might expect: blackbirds, trees, hedges, a statue; the rough sleeper and the early-morning cyclist. But the vision is unique. Beer is all experienced poet, widely anthologised, and much loved in the poetry world, and it is her individual perspective that make this small collection so special. Don’t be deceived by the apparent simplicity. Beer, like all good poets, is about the business of telling the truth, and however simple the message, telling the truth — about a special moment in time, a memory, whatever— is not a simple thing. So we have here poems that are spare, accurate sketches, with never a word that hasn’t earned its place. Laconic, unfussy, they are the words of a watcher and a thinker, who can hand to you the essence of a particular moment, Here’s ‘5 am’;
It is light. The sun may be shining
in other places; here it does
not penetrate the clouds.In the Square
a few blackbirds foraging for food.
Slight winds stir the leaves on the trees.
No cars on the streets
no people either. As if the town
was taking deep, silent breaths
before the morning’s hustle.
The sense that ‘the sun may he shining’ elsewhere simply intensifies the almost claustrophobic hush of the moment. In other poems, a reverie about the signals of winter suddenly becomes personal; a waking dream is poignant in its simple detail. And Beer can compress so much into the tight disciplines of the haiku. There’s the quiet wit of the wise, too: the statue is of a man who 'in his lifetime stood... preaching the joys of virtue, temperance..' There’s no condemnation of the miserable hungover shouting man, in his damp morning-after clothes - but no soppy sympathy either: ‘The trees look on — they’ve heard it all before’. You can trust the voice behind these reliable poems. They are also brave poems, looking at life without sentimentality and without portentousness. Window on the Square is well worth your £3.