The poems in “Strange Fashion” travel to Ireland, Scotland, Spain and America, moving back through history to a journalist trying to interview Virginia Woolf and Emilys Bronte and Dickinson browsing antiques in Church Stretton. The strangeness does not lie in the unfamiliar locations but in close observations of people’s behaviour when their guards are let down, when individuality shows. In “Gas Basin, 6pm” a woman kneels by the canal with a bag of fish food,
” She was just a woman with a few drinks inside her,
feeding fish, and if she felt like talking to them, waving even,
who were we to stop her, who were we to imagine
that our lives had bigger moments in them than hers?
We walked past on the other side, kept our eyes straight ahead,
carried on chatting until there was a safe enough distance
between that first sighting and the looking back.”
Despite the subject’s inhibitions being loosened enough to enable her to talk to the fish she’s feeding, the observers feel they can’t openly observe but look back from a safe distance. Partly this is down to the surprise of watching someone do something strange, but also the observers’ senses of decorum; they don’t want to be seen to be looking. There’s no judgment – the woman is not described as drunk and seems to be sufficiently in control to speak to and feed fish without the observers worrying she might fall in the water and the observers concede they have no right to intervene.
Thoughts are recorded “For Those Who Walk Pavements”,
“who walk, as if on air, or weighed down
by something shocking left over
from their dreams. Spare a thought for the wanderer,
meanderer, the blinkered, the lost.
Spare another thought, light a candle,
for those who travel without compass
or map, who leave the house with vague intentions,
an idea of destination, yet happily drift off course.”
For most pedestrians, the walkers mentioned are those who cause annoyance and are barely worth a second glance, much less a thought, as those with destinations and one eye on a clock hurry past. The poem is an invitation to slow down and observe. There are moments of tenderness too, in “Prisms”
“The frayed ends of what the rain left.
Red seeping into blue.
It doesn’t matter in what order the colours come,
as long as they do.
It takes me back to that other darkened room –
us, tethered by lust.
The way we sucked the breath
out of each other,
the colours streaming through us in any old order.”
A search for light and colour is echoed in “The Sun (her Ex) on the Shortest Day”
“A satellite tracking your temperature, weight and height,
wondered where you’d gone. Dirty stop-out, you crouched in a stairwell,
wasted from dog days. Even so, the sky danced itself into unseasonal blue.
You crouched. I watched scraps of cloud; people in flats hanging out washing,
moving through rooms; then later, car headlights, pretending to be you,
tiny white bulbs in the tree outside Matalan.
Faking it, window by window: the glint of your stalker attentions.
Black canal. Swans stamped with leaf shadows. Your kiss
on the back of my neck in the middle of my forgetting.”
“Strange Fashion” is an invitation to observe without prejudice or judgment. It offers compassionate attentiveness that comes from a poet willing to slow down and watch and record. The poems are crafted, giving readers enough details to complete their stories based on acute glimpses into others’ lives.