“In the Cinema” Stephen Bone (Playdead Press) – poetry review

Image of In The Cinema
The ending of the title poem, “don’t tell me how it ends/ don’t spoil it for me,” echoes through this collection. Stephen Bone is good at giving readers the telling detail and leaving them to work out the ending. In “Unmendable”, a potentially valuable glass is dropped on the floor

“with a rich percussion,

a jigsaw of glass
at our feet.

For a moment like haruspices
we studied the red remains;

then the word arrived,
reached you first;

unmendable, you said.”

The word could be just as much about the relationship as the glass. The tone changes as the couple survey the broken glass and the “s” assonances stop and give way to the short ‘i’ vowels and ‘d’ endings. The pared-down, minimalist style continues throughout. One effect of this is to drawn attention to each word because, the fewer words there are, the more significance each one has. In “78s”, the narrator comes across a gramophone in a loft with collection of vinyl records and naturally tries it out:

“Their voices

now and slurring
under the drag of the needle
as the turntable slowed. Like
grotesque recordings from their
deathbeds.”

This seems uncharacteristically overwrought until the final stanza (over the other side of the page),

“Until, with a few turns
of my arm – as if cranking up
a vintage car – their lungs filled
again with thirties’ air. Resurrected
to the prime of your life.”

Although the poem names some of the artists, I’d have liked a little more context, more detail on music style or the significance to the previous owner who is not named and simply addressed in the second person. Did they dance to the records or sit in still reverence when listening? Did they openly talk about how the music made them feel or was coming across them more like uncovering a spider-webbed photo album of people whose names have been lost in the mists of time? The reader doesn’t know if “you” is a distant relative or a mother. It’s definitely a different “you” to the one with the broken vase.

Not all poems are in second person however and one of the most moving is “A New Kind Of Rain”, where a boy calls his grandmother to be picked up after a game is rained off (presumably football but not specified).

“not hearing the flatness
in her voice, the intake
of breath, on the edge
of saying something
but didn’t.

Her eyes were red
and she was wearing
more powder than usual.
He could smell its rose-like
scent as she gently pulled
him to her, before
he heard the slow, quiet
sentences…

On the journey home
he sat silently beside her,
digging a fingernail deep
into his thumb;
watching the wipers
frantic
to keep up
with a new kind
of rain.”

It captures that teenaged self-centredness that fails to notice the grandmother’s grief until she tells him and his concerns pale against hers. Again the end is not spoiled for the reader. Occasionally I’d have liked a change in tone, but these poems are written with care and appreciation of detail. The poet clearly understands how to choose details to focus on and allow to accumulate into a story.

“In the Cinema” is available from Playdead Press.

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