An independent small press poetry review

NHI independent review
Smith/Doorstop Books
The Poetry Business
Bank Street Arts
32-40 Bank Street
S1 2DS
ISBN 1 902382 72 2

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This page last updated: 28th June 2008.

First stage winner in The Poetry Business's 2004 Book and Pamphlet competition and accompanied with blurbs such as,

...succinct, well-constructed and powerful,
from Wendy Cope and,
...gets under the skin of her subjects in an impressively direct and imaginative way...
from Don Paterson. The title of the pamphlet and opening poem refers to an UNSCHEDULED HALT at Lille:
	... Phil had his head on my shoulder;
	I remember wishing I was not so bony,
	no-one had every rested his head on me before.
	And when they did, when my babies 
	nodded off, their fists open, trusting,
	I would remember this glimpse of Lille.
	The night pricked with stars.
A stopped train. Midnight. A new moon.
Although I'm left wondering why the poem ends on the stopped train when clearly the significant image is Phil's head resting on her shoulder and the memory-link with babies doing the same thing. It's tempting for a reader to wrap up the poem by reading a promise of new life in the new moon and hence conferring the status of father-to-future-babies on Phil, which I doubt is intended. The pamphlet's title also refers to her now late father who is the subject of some of the poems within, eg THE LAST TIME:
	The last time I saw my father
	he was sitting at a formica table
	with two other elderly gentlemen.
	All three were wearing blue plastic bibs
	and a nurse in a sweater was spooning in
	rice pudding and strawberry jam.
	It was like one of those tea-parties we had
	for dolls. You'd prop them up on chairs
	and tell them to be good. They never picked up
	the cutlery, or spoke, or swallowed
	a mouthful of biscuit and water pudding
	you'd lovingly prepared. In the end
	you'd drift outdoors to play on the swing
	and, for weeks, picked bits of food
	from nostrils, ears, tight rosebud mouths
	and the dolly cardigans grandma made.
The old-fashioned, "gentlemen" is obviously deliberate, but I think there should be a stanza break after the "strawberry jam" since, although there's a memory-link between the men being fed and the dolls' tea party, the poem doesn't return to the former (a sonnet would have wrapped it up nicely). Then I look at the words. Clearly, it's a precise drawing of a memory, but I'm also left wondering why the nurse is wearing a sweater when care homes are usually over-heated and why go for the cliché "rosebud mouths" instead of taking the opportunity to pick up the colour of strawberry jam again? It also feels like a lost opportunity to use a heritage link — does Carole Bromley knit dolly cardigans or do the ones grandma knitted survive; has she inherited any of her father's food tastes; do her children hold dolls' parties? As it stands, it's an ordinary description of an ordinary childhood memory (riskily using "we" and "you" to include an audience who may never had held dolls' parties) triggered by watching an elderly father become dependent and not much is done with the attempted parallel between father and the dolls.

But the pamphlet isn't just nostalgic, THE HOMECOMING OF SIR THOMAS WYATT is humorous:

	...She'd been hoping for chianti, one of those models
	of the leaning tower or at least a decent bunch 
	of grapes. And he'd been so irritatingly cock-
	a-hoop. Men are like that. Have to plant
	their little flags. She didn't let on though,
	just thought 'Oh well, at least it's short', folded
	her arms and gave him a look like Jack's mum
	when he brought back that fistful of beans.
which I'd have thought really justified a sonnet. I'm not convinced by that final image either. Lady Wyatt clearly meets her husband with an air of resignation, an 'oh well, it could have been worse'. Whereas Jack's mother was furious enough to throw the beans on the ground and send him to bed without supper. If she hadn't been furious and had resignedly tried to cook the beans to fill out a meagre supper, the beanstalk would never had grown.

Carole Bromley is widely published and some will relish seeing her poems collected into a pamphlet, but UNSCHEDULED HALT didn't strike a chord with me.

reviewer: Emma Lee.