“a pint for the ghost” Helen Mort (tall lighthouse) – poetry review

Helen Mort A Pint for the Ghost book cover

This pamphlet is a companion to a live show where ghosts arrive in a shabby pub after closing time to introduce themselves.  There are ghosts of miners, workers, a hospital ghost, a teacher and a student who died after getting stuck in a shaft whilst climbing the Derbyshire Peaks. 

That hospital ghost lurks in the x-ray machine and extrapolates lives from x-rays,

“…his femur hides the slender penknife

he once held against a woman’s throat, half-cut
on brandy, joking
that his hand might slip, while she stood trembling
against the wall.

Don’t panic, love. It were a joke. I’ve had a few,
that’s all.”

That final couplet rhyme is the only one in the poem.  There’s no dramatic tension either.  Why not, “his femur hides the slender penknife/ he held once. Don’t panic, love. It were a joke. I’ve had a few,/ that’s all./ She stood trembling against a wall, / knife at her throat./ Blaming the brandy as he joked/ his hand might slip”?

This contrasts with “a chaser for miss heath” (yes all poems have cutesy lower case titles) where the narrator is a former, reluctant ballet pupil puzzled at the teacher never making the stage until,

“in shoes that pinch my toes
until they bleed, my back
held ballerina straight,

I wait as she did, too afraid
to walk into a bar
where everyone’s a stranger…”

A ghost that might have lived instead of one reported.  Maybe it needs the live show as not all the poems came alive off the page, but Miss Heath did and that’s enough for me to keep an eye out for future poems from Helen Mort.


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