“The Fire Station” Sarah Barnsley (Telltale Press) – poetry review

The Fire Station Sarah Barnsley book cover

These poems have a humour and exuberance that resonates after the pamphlet has been finished. A supermarket trip becomes a ride through the rapids on a kayak; what begins as a child trying to enliven a chore becomes a sustained metaphor in seeing the ordinary through luminous images. In “Dad’s Cars” a “green-bean coloured Ford Escort” becomes the description of a marriage,

“Mum once tried to drive it in
a Derbyshire Dales car park.
You laughed at her, and we shrieked,

as the car lolloped towards a steep ditch.
She stuck to polishing the dashboard
after that, drenching its pockmarked

plastic in fast firings of Mr. Sheen
as you played your Commodore ’64.”

A father, who has not learnt to take into account the feelings of others, plays computer games while the mother holds the household together. There’s an undercurrent of aggression, particularly in the ending and the last car: “You kicked it like it was us. Like you, it never worked again.”
In “Red Ink” nothing is said but the tone is clear:

“though you say nothing
my internal seismograph

records the earthquake
of your disapproval,

the molecular squares
of love’s graph paper

registering the preliminary
tremors when you heard our news,

scratching our clean page
with needlepoint politeness.”

That politeness may have been precisely worded but it didn’t provide the necessary succour. The wry humour prevents these observations becoming dismal. They exude a confidence which comes from allowing the poem to find its form and rhythm without trying to straightjacket it into something it doesn’t want to be.

“The Fire Station” is available from Telltale Press

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