Issue Five

Autumn 2012

 

Rosie Shepperd, That so-easy thing, 30pp, £5.00

Smith/Doorstop Books, The Poetry Business, Bank Street Arts, 32-40 Bank Street, Sheffield S1 2DS

I was immediately struck by the unusual form of Rosie Shepperd's poems. Their shape on the page sets them apart from the typical lyric, most of the pieces in this prize-winning pamphlet using long, flowing lines, some tabbed or indented to the right, to give the look of a waterfall or drifts of lines or sprawls of language over the page or rapid mixes of long and short lines in unexpected combination. 

On first reading this seemed an affectation, an arrangement designed to look different merely to capture attention or intrigue the reader, without real purpose. But after reading only a couple of poems to realise that this was simply the visual outcome of a flowing, liquid poetry and a sensuous intelligence which is ready to explore all sorts of different approaches to enliven her poems.

And they work. These poems are vibrant, full of flourishes and fluid movement, whether driven by narrative:

A man in a loose blue shirt

moves across the sand, leans on a rake, lifts his face to The Narrows.

He walks towards the pontoon, bumping in a breeze;

stays still for barely a moment,

then disappears.

(What is the name of the thing I call Love?)

or realistic dialogue:

"Are you hungry or shall we explore?"

 "Look at the boats. They're so, just so."

 "I know. It's beautiful, isn't it?"

 (Thoughts inside a rented silver Opel)

or unanswered questions (Shepperd is very fond of questions, rhetorical or otherwise, to push her poems forward):

Was it the peach towels?

The sweet circular soap? A delicacy in the afternoon

light from the fly-over? Did she lift the single mint-

chocolate from her pillow, break it in two and save

each half for some tender moment, later? 

Much later.

(A seedy narrative or moments of lyrical stillness?)

Her work is always restlessly flowing into the next line, the next stanza, the next image or idea. The shape generally reflects an excitement in rhythm or pace which is quite rare in poetry, an energy lifting work off the page. 

Titles, too, are unusual, quirky, engaging and, typically, long, often having the air of aphorism, such as 'Perfect and private things have imperfect and public endings' and 'Somewhere I read that a thought can be exaggerated, while an emotion cannot'.

Such strong, almost sententious, statements are common in the poems themselves, but they never seem superfluous or forced, perhaps because of the way they are attached to narrative or image. I particularly liked the ending to ‘How d’ya like them apples?’, for example: 

I stayed out on the blue boat, stayed out all afternoon;

came back to the quay with empty hands and salt in my hair.

 

Some things cannot be explained: some creatures

swim and breathe and cannot be caught.

While it is a generalised statement of the kind contemporary poets are often persuaded to avoid, in this case it acts as a summary of the narrative which illustrates it, though not in any Aesopian moralistic way, and that final image is a kind of "proof" of it,

The poems deal with both personal and more remote subjects although, as often is the case, there’s no obvious distinction between the poems of personal experience and those which may simply be well-imagined fictions. What Shepperd’s conversational style often does, however, is make even quite abstract or distant accounts seem personal and immediate. Even as she is engaging in some clever language tactic, she can bring us into the intimacy of a situation, as in ‘A seedy narrative or moments of lyrical stillness?’ Its first sentence is a declarative description, but the remainder of the poem is couched in speculations, negatives and questions, so that the casual relationship between salesman and ‘girl on a summer job’ that is described doesn’t actually happen – but its not happening has a humanity and tenderness that draws you in, so the reader feels at once engaged by the rather banal romance, and wistful that it may not have occurred. Or perhaps it did.

There are recurrent themes and images. One set of imagery enriching many poems is that of food, with taste being an unusually prominent sense in Shepperd's work. I don’t know if this is a deliberate device on her part but the food imagery in the collection is striking and rich. There’s the metaphorical ‘dolphin-friendly-tuna’ the protagonist has been compelled to eat vs. the less PC but more self-indulgent Indian Summer Grill she’d much prefer, in ‘I tend to tug when I shouldn’t even push’. The observational detail of sushi chefs in ‘Somewhere I read that a thought can be exaggerated, while an emotion cannot’ provides an intrusive distraction in another relationship-during-a-meal, where observing the particular minutiae of the meal enables two people to maintain their relationship without having to communicate with each other.

It’s gone again, that so-easy-thing we had for each other.

......

we incline our heads,

together and at each other, bound by this thing,

this art form we’re watching.

The meal becomes a metaphor for the way they run their lives together.

But it’s the sensuality of the food imagery that I noticed most, with its many shifts and subtleties as well as Shepperd’s clear love of the language of food in itself:

A heavy lamb shank seemed a fine idea,

basted with last week’s Multipulciano,

perched on a goo of onions, sugared with rosemary needles.

(It’s no good)

This collection is sharp, exciting, tender, and sensual all in the same mouthful. I was tentative at first, but after a couple of tastes, I loved it. 

 

NW

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