Monday, 28 January 2013

Publisher and poet

Sheila Wakefield. Limerance. Consett, Co. Durham: Talking Pen.

It's no secret that Sheila Wakefield worked in the motor trade before taking an M.A. in Creative Writing at Northumberland University. Her teachers might well have been aware she would write poems that worked – no unexplained rattlings, no missing screws – but could they have guessed that one day she might turn her pen on them? She does so in They

 … they want us to find our voice,
      but then try to silence it....

      they take our fees, our naivety,
      sensitivity, plagiarise our work...

      have they forgotten so quickly
      when they were just like us?

Yet there is absolutely no sense of hostility here. Sheila's work, like herself, is always up front. With a simple contemporary style and a strong eye, she slams home her points whatever her subject. Next Door begins with what sounds like a grumble about neighbours:

      next door she shouts a lot...
      next door the cockerels crow
      every three minutes...

but swiftly moves to environmental problems:

      next door mammoth machines create

      next door the opencast intrudes,

This is a book by an incisive, practical poet of the free verse school. Not a rhyme in sight. This is the poet who learned much from James Kirkup (who also originated in North-East England), and the poet who has published dozens of other poets in both North-East England and Scotland with her Red Squirrel press.
The poems are direct and outspoken, and sometimes not so much cynical as unillusioned. The poet links to the community in Twelve things I don't want to hear, After Connie Bensley
(...You would like me to 'just look' at a new car...) and 38 poems I never wrote After Linda France.
As well as the title poem, also a love poem, there are a couple of forthright poems about sexual encounters, in both of which a car features, one more incidentally than the other, and yet another poem that can only be described as a love poem to a BMW. Or there again...

       His cool silver metal
       cradles a heart of pure platinum, a chassis of steel...

       a hint of bravado,
       nestling in his catalytic converter.

    It is actually quite unusual for today's women poets to write about their relationships with men.
    Physically this is a neat, cheerfully unassuming pamphlet: red cover, cream paper, not cramped, and decorated with vaguely blown-up woodcuts. Published by Talking Pen rather than Sheila Wakefield's own press, Limerance is entirely readable, satisfying, deserved and dignified.

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