Issue Six

Winter 2013

 

Frank Wood, Racing the Stable Clock, 32pp, £4.00
HappenStance, 21 Hatton Green, Glenrothes, Fife KY7 4SD, www.happenstancepress.com

Despite being from the same press, Frank Wood’s Racing the Stable Clock contrasts strongly with Marion Tracy (also reviewed in this issue of Antiphon). Whereas Tracy’s volume has a strong unifying intent, there’s little that unifies these poems, neither thematically nor stylistically. As a collection it veers from the lightest of subjects:

This is confection to die for,
and you probably will.
(‘Bakehouse Bakewell: an inspector’s report’)

to dark hints of something rather deeper and more strongly felt:

a lullaby that sent me dozing
through to when the singing stopped
and the sobbing began.
(‘Bells at midnight’)

What these poems do have in common is surety of voice. They may vary in what they are doing, but they always do it well. Whether this is a strength or perhaps a bit of problem in a short collection, I find it hard to decide. Having been challenged by the severity of one poem I’m a little put off to find a piece of tongue in cheek humour nestling against it. But perhaps the contrast of moods works for some.

At their best, the poems can provoke a smile whilst also having something to say, as in the description of the Pennines as:

very far away
and awesome: places
where wild men
roamed by night
dumping old mattresses.
(‘Up from the provinces’)

There are two unexpected shifts in this (final) stanza, movements which seem to me typical of the way Wood works. Firstly we have “awesome”. The immediate response of the “educated reader” is to object to such a loose, fashionable and abused word. But, immediately it has been read, the poem suggests that it’s us, the readers, at fault for not realising that the word is intended with its proper meaning, full of awe, as we would be if witnessing wild men roaming the Pennines in the dark midnight. So, we now correct ourselves. And just as we’ve done that, we discover these romantic, primitive figures are actually fly-tippers: so perhaps the contemporary meaning of “awesome” is to apply after all – a false awe, a diminishing of the true majesty of the Pennines and their inhabitants into a popular, careless dumping ground. A smile. A serious point.

Where the poems are a little weaker is when they become more obvious, despite the evidently heartfelt sentiment. The Great War, for example, wants to make us feel something of war’s horror, and the inability of people to learn from history, both of which are important purposes. But it does so by trotting out clichés of wartime (“My father would never talk about it”) and morals that seem rather pat.

There are also quite a few poems that depend on an audience of poets. ‘We all have our problems’, ‘The poet travels’, ‘A day in the life of an objective correlative’, ‘The rain’ and ‘Reflections’ all really require a writerly audience to work effectively. They’re clever, but they seem a little obvious, somehow – the sort of things most poets might write out of their experience of being a poet.

the poet swallows
a pint of turbid water. He wonders
where the sewage goes in Aldeburgh.
(‘The poet travels’)

Even so, I enjoyed the variety in this pamphlet. There’s a quirky set of subjects (poems about sardines, Bakewell tart, happiness, a child shot dead in Ulster, sermon writing, a child’s perceptions of sound) and a correspondingly interesting range of tones to go with them. Whether this is all too much for a single pamphlet may simply be a matter of taste.

 

Noel Williams

 

long stairs