The title comes from the opening poem, “Grace Notes”, a journey to Ireland via ferry where the final stanza invites readers to
“Wave on your luggage, walk the only road there is
till it runs out of tarmac and the salt air draws you. Listen
for the notes between the notes. Slip beyond the tune.”
It’s an apposite title because most of the poems invite readers to look beyond the words on the page to the images and thoughts conjured within. For example in “Suave and debonair” a girl’s pride in her father glosses over but still recognises his faults:
“Daddy’s girl, my angle’s blind
to a thinning crown, the comb-over;
a weak heart under peacock swagger – and
you’re taller, somehow, out of overalls
in slacks with knife-edge creases down
to split and polish; hands in pockets
weighing small change possibilities.
You shrug your shoulders
into a hounds tooth blazer, square
the broken checks of green and cream;
leather buttons left undone, token casual.
My formative years in toughened hands:
our lifelines grafted till you learn the art of letting go.”
The accumulation of details allows the reader to build the picture in their mind’s eye. The use of end of line enjambment hurries the reader over the suggestions of doubt; the “weak heart” is brushed over to the emphasis on “peacock swagger”. “Suave and debonair” isn’t the only poem to touch on memories of growing up, but, like the others, it doesn’t dwell on sentiment. There’s an acknowledgement of things not being ideal, but no hagiographic embellishment either. “Vintage” epitomises this with a look back to family seaside holidays, triggered by discovering an old case in the attic, with its sense of making the best of things.
“Rediscover Pac-a-Macs as beachwear,
resurrect the swing coat, tartan duffle bag;
own the promenade in red T-bar sandals.
Strike a pose in that ruched nylon swimsuit
christened in trawler oil, your profile
caught in the blink of a box Brownie’s eye.”
“Pac-a-Macs as beachwear” is a succinct description of summer on a UK beach. Swing coats are back in for Autumn/Winter 2014 but are never fashionable in summer. Fortunately the Brownie isn’t high definition enough to capture goose-bumps. It’s the telling choice of which details to record that create a solid foundation for these poems.
The tone of the tune changes too. Near the middle is a sequence of four poems, “Some stories from the other side” which take a darker tone. In “2. Pet” an ambiguous her has learnt to reduce her world to his house:
“feigns pleasure, throaty
as his fingers find the chip
that keeps her his.
He likes her stone-bellied;
she dreams of slipped collars,
a quick way out.
Each time he sidles back. Redolent
of feral nights in back alleys, he pins her down
with stories of newborns drowned in buckets.”
There’s love too, and not just in the poem’s title, “Love in Led Zepplin album covers”
“We pissed lyrical in pseudo-psychedelic dreams;
dawns bled tangerine, our zepplins crashed
manila skies with hummingbirds and butterflies
whose roundel-painted wings we glued
in grounded chips of china blue.
The towers on Dudley Road are long gone;
you and I, my rock, my song, still ramble on”.
The shorter “i” vowel sounds give way to the longer “o” sounds as youth became older and the initial urgency of romance became enduring love. “Beyond the Tune” lives up to its apt title.
By Emma Lee