Sometimes I like to use this blog to write about pamphlets I’ve read. They aren’t really reviews as such, because I don’t receive piles of books to sift through and then point out strengths and weaknesses of them as a ‘proper’ reviewer would. Instead, I aim to provide recommendations, urging the reader to grab a copy for themselves.
I bought my copy of Somewhere Between Rose and Black from Claire herself towards the end of last year, not long after it was published. As you’ll know if you read about the launch of WAAL, at which she was one of my guest readers, Claire and I ‘met’ through 52 in 2014, and I’ve followed her work ever since.
The fact that this, her second book, is published by V. Press, should tell you that it’s great; I’ve yet to read a dud from the press, which is run so brilliantly by Sarah Leavesley and Ruth Stacey (who tends to design the memorable cover artwork). But while I often read and enjoy collections of poetry, it’s rare that I come back to them time and time again, as I have with this. It’s accompanied me on a few of my monthly train journeys to London for work, and even though I’ve read it from cover to cover at least a dozen times, it still feels fresh and thrilling each time.
Of course, lots of other people agree that this is a special book, which has culminated in a nomination for the prestigious Saboteur Award for Best Pamphlet. Go and vote for it now (until 9th May – quick!).
Somewhere… is based on a diary kept by Claire’s Great Aunt Molly. In it, Molly describes the process of buying and renovating a tumbledown cottage in the 1960s. Although she died before Claire was born, through the diary Claire was able to find out what sort of a person her great aunt was. The pamphlet follows Molly and her husband’s story as they arrive at the cottage and struggle to build a home together, both in a physical sense with bricks and mortar, and as a couple.
This is a collection where nature features heavily, as does the weather. We see from the outset (‘Moving’) how the ‘sky is everywhere – it peers into windows, down through a shredded roof’ and ‘this sky will know if I fail to build a home’ – there’s a sense that the narrator is being observed, and judged, by a power greater than herself which will ultimately decide whether she succeeds.
Quite quickly we meet a stag, which makes regular appearances throughout, munching on the crops Molly tries to grow, before morphing dramatically, with clever sequencing of the poems, into a man who lives at a neighbouring farmhouse with whom she finds herself seeking solace. Of course, there are repercussions, but I won’t spoil that for you!
It’s a compelling, earthy story, which really pulls you along and demands to be devoured in one sitting. As such, it really suits the pamphlet format – these 25 poems could have ended up rather drowned out if they’d been published as a sequence within a full collection, but here they’re given the room to breathe and gradually seep into your psyche.
Grab a copy, and catch Claire reading from it if you get the chance – you won’t be disappointed.
You can read (and hear!) three poems from the pamphlet here on Clear Poetry.
Somewhere Between Rose and Black is available from V. Press Poetry for £7.50 (inc. P&P).