Alan Price’s poems have a filmic quality to them. They often started with a camera’s eye view of a scene presented in a way to guide the reader to discern the poem’s mood. This allows for textured layers to explore a theme or idea. The poems are not just visual or intellectual concepts. They show compassion. In the title poem,
“White shirt torn off,
no longer assisted
by her adept hands.
Jacket, trousers and underwear
hurled at the chair
she once sat on.
‘Saturation’ she’d said,
‘Are we not seeing
one another too much?’
He kneels on the bed, not guilty.”
He and his Japanese lover take a break. Kneeling suggests supplication, a plea that this doesn’t end. Later he wonders,
“Was he more innocent
falling down naked
or dressed up to the nines,
indulging in camouflage,
smiling for Erochikku?”
Appropriately Erochikku translates as “erotic”. He is left lonely with memories and readers see a mix of desire and regret. There’s an ambiguity here too: the reader is left unsure as to whether the “she” is a woman or a picture. Is she speaking or is it his conscience?
In “Futility of My Own Great War” Alan Price acknowledges domestic subject matters seem unimportant compared with apparently greater subjects,
“To write about the retreat, knowing I’d have run too if they’d put me there.
To write to scared young officers, knowing I’m absent and unafraid.
To write about orders I uncover as wrong, ignorant of how to obey.
To write that I’ll be coming home soon, when I’m always home.
To write with those dying for me, when I live on with my buried life.
To write to discover what I’ve buried. Scenes of the dead.
Writing me, now.”
It also touches on issues around writing other people’s stories, even when the others are no longer with us. How far can a writer go when using someone else’s story? How can a writer understand another’s motives and experiences through second hand sources? Can a writer, who has never been to war, understand what it’s like? On the other hand, writing about a relatively uneventful life, albeit from a position of knowledge and understanding, can seem unimportant and not worthwhile, even when a personal truth can be expanded to a universal one. It’s only a compassionate writer who would consider such issues. It’s left for the reader to decide which way the writer should decide.
In “Mischievous Shoot”, another writer is urged not to lose sight of what made her a writer in the first place. A writer has posed for her author photo wearing glasses, “the kind actors wear to show how arty they are”. The last stanza is,
“I watch her posing through this album
before her stories found a publisher.
Before she had her hair cut short, grew ill,
grew better, grew back into her mischief.”
Other poems touch on more contemporary issues. “Fortress Europe” takes Katie Hopkins’ comparison of migrants to cockroaches in The Sun newspaper to its natural conclusion, the attack refers to a suggested gas attack,
“In the dark of their old chambers
they hiss and chirrup on festering laws.
All will survive the attack,
draw plans to creep and stick around.”
The last quoted sentence could be applied to Katie Hopkins: she is paid to provide controversy and click bait and, so long as she is careful not to say anything that can’t be shrugged off, she will survive even when readers attack. It’s when she’s not talked about, she will be quietly dropped. A cockroach potentially could survive a nuclear blast: they will outlive humans. That wasn’t the metaphor Katie Hopkins was aiming for.
“Accommodations” doesn’t specifically say so, but could refer to the Grenfell Tower fire where 72 people lost their lives when fire broke out and cladding used on the tower facilitated its spread.
“You expect to live in a safe tower
shielded from wind, flood and fire.
Yet the clothes that clad your body
protect and attract more than
every panel of these huge walls.
I’m trembling, not burning.”
It concludes with a fantasy that tower blocks are appreciated, invested in and owners take proper fire retardant measures. This in turn allows the inhabitants to thrive and become part of the wider community, instead of being left as victims of cost-cutting measures by investors more interested in balance sheets than a duty of care, a system that tries to shift responsibility onto inhabitants whilst robbing them of power. A theme picked up in a recent novella after Grenfell that imagines inhabitants dreaming of owning a house and a garden closed to whoever lives next door, rather than an apartment in a community of neighbours.
“Wardrobe Blues for a Japanese Lady” contains assured, quiet poems, crafted so the reader knows the poet has confidence to allow them space for interpretation: the conclusion is not as important as the journey. Alan Price employs visual images to guide readers, creating poems that stay in the memory after the book has been read.