Chapbook Short Reviews
Jim Carruth : High Auchensale. Ludovic Press. £5.00
Eleanor Livingstone: The Last King of Fife. HappenStance. £3.00
Matt Merritt: Making the Most of the Light. HappenStance. £3.00
These three Chapbooks are listed in the current issue of Snakeskin, although I’ve had my copies for a while now. I’ve also had the pleasure – and it was a pleasure – of hearing all three read.
I’ll start by quoting from one of Jim’s poems about childhood – The Burns Competition.
while the boy in our class from Leicester
was modulating his voice
in exaggerated accents,
contorting his face in false passion,
gesticulating his way
through an overblown performance,
taking the piss,
winning by a country mile.
Jim’s poems are no piss-take, and you won’t find a trace of false passion in them. They are the real thing; the authentic voice of a man who cares about, no, loves, the land he grew up in, and on which he still farms. At his recent StAnza reading some members of the audience were moved to tears, hearing his unquestionably passionate connection with farming life. There’s a poignancy in the way he describes cattle and sheep, but it’s never sentimental, because it’s rooted in a reality which is seldom romantic – no rose-tinted specs for Jim. Read Queen of the Sheep to see what I mean.
there’s always another,
The Queen of the Sheep is dead.
Long live the Queen.
Eleanor grew up in Bathgate and moved to Fife when she was eight. She describes the move in Entering the Kingdom.
yes, it was steel
cold, hard and grey itself
which brought me here
from that car grey and shale red place.
I can identify with this, having spent my teenage years and young married life in Bathgate.
It’s interesting that she, like Jim, describes the “whiskered kisses” of maiden aunts. Is there some archetypal fear of the old here?
There poems here are varied in subject and treatment; the constant is Eleanor’s voice – questioning, observing, commenting with intelligence and humour on a variety of experience and imagination.
I don’t think for a minute that there’s a connection with Jim’s Leicester classmate, but Matt does come from Leicester.
There’s a neatness and a confidence in these poems – they’re very assured for a first collection. I like his exploration of language, and the way meaning drifts in “Vocabulary”, where ‘poor outcome’, ‘pain management’, ‘the many meanings of serious’ ultimately lead to the stark and truthful ‘It is unbearable.’
Matt gives us a wide variety of subjects here too, treated deftly and with compassion and a lightness of touch that is admirable.
Three excellent chapbooks, all worth buying (together with Rob’s The Clown of Natural Sorrow, of course), all worth reading and re-reading.