Review of small press and independent books.
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I can - and do - read poetry everywhere. On the train, in the bath, with lunch, even occasionally on the sidelines at my son's football match. (Not that I'd admit this to him, of course.) But I can't think of more perfect surroundings to tuck into a poetry pamphlet with the title 'Wheelbarrow Farm' than in the middle of some beautiful Gloucestershire countryside. And no sooner had I opened the cover, than I was at home.
Hilary Menos's 'Wheelbarrow Farm' was one of the winning pamphlets in the Templar Poetry Pamphlet and Collection Competition 2010. As her Seren-published 'Berg' also recently won the Forward Prize for Best First Collection 2010, I had high expectations.
Right from the opening poem, this pamphlet is full of strong characters, music and some fantastically quotable lines. In fact, the main reason I'm not just letting short snippets from the poems speak for themselves in this review is that I don't want to lessen their impact on readers by spoiling some of their surprise.
On a personal level, these poems of life in an agricultural setting triggered many childhood memories of my grandparents' farm. But more than that, these poems create a wonderful balance between a conversational, matter of fact tone and moments of poetic beauty seen in the grimmest realities of rural life. I probably wouldn't have believed it if someone had told me, for example, that one could bring ballet, a slurried farmyard and death together effectively but that is exactly what Menos does in her opening poem 'Being Grunt Garvey'. (In fact, the penultimate line of this poem is one of those lines of poetry which stays with one long after reading, instinctively lodging itself firmly in the memory.) And all this with the light touch of humour that is also found throughout the pamphlet.
The title poem 'Wheelbarrow Farm', particularly seasonal at the moment given the recent snowfall, is an excellent example of this blend with its opening lines:
"When hell freezes over, he swears by three things.
"Lard on the lips. Two pairs of socks. His wheelbarrow,"
As elsewhere, the light, matter of fact, conversational tone belies and ultimately heightens the poignant use this wheelbarrow is put to, by necessity .
All in all, the mixture of poems in this pamphlet is probably best summed up by a line from one of my favourite poems in it, 'Woodcock Hay': "their neat fit the only magic we know or need". What else is left to say!