3 HappenStance Collections:
The Under-ripe Banana – Janet Loverseed (£4)
Rebuilding a Number 39 – Marilyn Ricci (£4)
Nearly the Happy Hour – D.A. Prince (£8)
Reviewed by Tom Jenks
If they had any souls, most publishers would sell them to the devil, Bill Gates or a consortium of Thai businessmen if it ensured that their output was described as ‘fashionable’. The weekend papers are full of it: top ten talents under thirty, top thirty talents under ten, what is ‘happening’, as if the whole world wasn’t happening. In this context, we must cherish publishers like HappenStance who look askance at all this sturm und drang and focus instead on finding and publicising writers whose work they believe in, regardless of whether they fit any particular demographic segment or target market. Primarily a chapbook imprint but expanding into books of late, HappenStance produce elegant, tailored editions whose pages showcase many of the enduring qualities of home grown poetry: an emphasis on craft and structure, a quiet, self-effacing voice and, above all, an eschewing of smoke and mirrors in favour of a clear-eyed focus on the tangible, everyday world, its myriad tiny mysteries and miracles. HappenStance poets remind us that there is wonder everywhere and that the way to the empyrean is via the quotidian.
Janet Loverseed’s work embodies these qualities. Her voice throughout The Under-ripe Banana, her first collection, is controlled and unwavering, never brash or gauche, never playing to the gallery. Each phrase is weighted, each line calibrated. Some of the poems here deal with highly emotive subjects – the passage of time, changing relationships, old age, death. These themes are the bread and butter of poetry but it is surprising how many poets can’t butter bread. Janet Loverseed definitely can and you would never find her reaching for the jam jar just for the sake of it. Each poem knows what it is trying to do, does it and then leaves. My two favourites were Touching and From this Stopped Train. The first describes an observed scene between mother and son as the son draws “the best tiger in the world”, yellow and green with bright blue eyes and a pink smile. The second has echoes of Edward Thomas’s Adelstrop where the world is seen anew from a halted train, across the “noon-bright fields” where the calves are following their mothers. Janet Loverseed talks elsewhere in the collection about learning to accept herself, learning to believe that “…it’s quite all right/to be the kind of person/who just hangs about all the time,/thinking.” This chapbook suggests that time was well spent.
On the evidence of Rebuilding a Number 39, also a first collection, Marilyn Ricci has also spent a long time looking and thinking. These elegant, spare poems show that she has a particular feel for character and an ability to delineate it economically. The companion pieces Mams and Dads illustrate this, highlighting the differences between two children by contrasting the looks and character of their parents. One mother is “…young with fluid limbs./Wavy hair floats down her back.”, the other “…older with short hair./Eyes glow green and blue”. One looks like Jean Shrimpton while, the other, unable to look like a movie star, has to content herself with cleaning the oven while another movie star, Bob Hope, entertains her family at the local cinema. In the end, though, the two women are more alike than they first appear, each exhausted at the end of the day, laying their aching bodies down to sleep. The poems in this collection are set in tea rooms, cinemas and parlours, places where nothing much seems to be happening but there is drama if you know where and how to look: in the arrival of a coal delivery, in the smell of hops, in a teenage boy’s baleful glance at a waitress whiles his mother chatters, telling us all we need to know about what their relationship is and what it will become. But every now and then a streak of surrealism surfaces, as in Consuming Passion, where a woman renovates a rowing boat in a kitchen that may be on earth or may be somewhere else. These off kilter moments, dotted through the book, fizzing and flaring like fireworks, illuminate the elegant, miniaturist narratives that bind together this collection and the characters that inhabit it.
Read more about HappenStance or order any of these books at www.happenstancepress.com