“The Escapologist” is a mix of poems and prose poems, often looking at family relationships and ties but not confined to this. The title poem is about a boy learning to tie knots despite his parents’ skepticism and discovers one not in his handbook and has to decide whether to make his first mark of independence by not telling his parents. The theme of children growing independent occurs in the opening poems too, including “Old Flowers for a New Room”, for the poet’s daughter, Miranda, and has the poet bringing artificial flowers for her daughter’s “grey room”,
“coloured lights glowed above your four-poster.
I will drape them over and round your neck –
dripping garlands of daisies and roses.
I’ll haul my baggage up the steps.
As I loop these rainbows around your neck,
rain fills your gutters and overflows.
You laugh, swing my baggage up the steps –
I have delivered your plastic flowers.”
Daisies are a symbol for innocence and cheerfulness and act as a counterpoint to the more mature roses (the poem doesn’t specify colour so a lost opportunity). The overflow of rain reflects the relationship between mother and daughter. Initially the mother carries her bags – the word “haul” suggests a heaviness – then the daughter takes over – “swings” suggests ease and a light touch. The pantoum form gives the poem structure. Another family poem, “A Brother in Six Scenes”, has a very different tone and lets readers picture the scenes from an accumulation of details,
“Brother with rainbow umbrella–
here to give me his news, which is not news.
He will leave everything to me, he says.
Brother standing in his hall–
up to his ankles in unopened mail.
Turning from me with a shrug.
Brother on the floor of his flat–
phone hanging from the wall.
His shirt has been slashed to expose his chest.”
That’s not where the poem ends. Its three line stanza structure, passive voice and flat tone convey the emotion behind the poem.
“Coda for a Violin” starts “She knows the case’s weight, unzips the canvas cover,” as an old, familiar violin has been sold and is being packaged for its new owner,
“She must loosen the bow hair for the journey,
but first she holds her thumb against the strings, plucks
G-D-A-E, four spare notes.”
Those long vowels echo a sense of longing. It’s noticeable that she doesn’t play a tune but “four spare notes”, a farewell and an acknowledgement the violin is no longer hers.
“The Escapologist” contains poems that are warm, conversational in tone and welcoming to read. They wear their craft and musicality lightly, which makes them an engaging read and gives them a depth exploring and exposing family psychologies.