Review in Sphinx 12 (2010)
by Rob A MacKenzie
When I saw the title of this pamphlet and then read the second sentence of Michael Laskey’s introduction, which describes the poet “puzzling at the significance of the ordinary small occurrences that she observes through her window”, I confess my heart sank. Most poetry written on such a premise is of the kind I want to throw across the room or perhaps even out the window. However, I reminded myself that good poetry can be made from any raw material. If language is used well, views particularly intriguing, insights unexpected with a ring of truth, poems can be worth reading.
At times, Alice Beer succeeded on all fronts. Her diction is typically plain and she does describe everyday incidents, and this untitled haiku-like poem, in full, illustrates her strengths:
no such colour—and yet
this morning sky.
No verb is necessary. The colour combination is indeed absurd but the reader can nevertheless see this sky as precisely as the poet can on this specific morning, and the “this” has the force of a present tense active verb.
Too often, however, the poems drifted into prosy reportage and there was nothing subtle in the language, and little real insight, to hold my attention. Once I’d read them and knew the story, there was no reason to return. ‘From My Window’ opens by describing the view at 4am. After describing the stirring of tree branches, she continues:
Then a lone cyclist
riding up New Walk
without lights, disappears
towards the park.
Can’t help wondering
Seriously, that ‘then’ kills the spell the opening stanza had promised. Rather than being drawn into a series of evocative images, the reader switches attention to the poet, as observer, writing a narrative of events in her notebook. The final casual phrase is, again, the poet talking to herself, imposing herself on the scene. Alice Beer might have gone on to make something of the dark silence with its lone star “a tinge of glacier blue,” but the poem petered out without really getting anywhere.
‘De Montfort Square’ is my pick from this pamphlet. It describes the statue of a fiery Baptist preacher in the first stanza and a man waking under a hedge after a night’s drinking in the second. He stands up and
[. . .] shouts his anger, his misery
for everyone to hear.
The trees look on—they’ve heard it all before.
That poem poses interesting questions on the psychology of the first stanza’s preacher. The narrative is well paced and strikes below the surface of what’s happening. And yes, I did want to read this one again.
Rob A Mackenzie