Philip Pollecoff, Carry This With You At All Times, (Smiths Knolls Press, 2014) 28pp, £5.00, ISBN 9780992702601
Reviewed by Hattie Grunewald [Originally published in LP5, Decemeber 2014]
Lowry prints, Coolie lamps, brocade, the odd
neo-Georgian stick – most of it was shit really,
nothing worth inheriting – the floor in your sister’s room.
This stanza comes from a poem titled ‘A Brief History of Our Universe’, the 11th poem in Philip Pollecoff’s Carry This With You At All Times. This is a collection littered with objects, unassuming junk and the various accessories that, when put together, tell us a life story, a history of a very personal universe. In his poetry, the inanimate becomes animated, from raincoats that twist children’s arms to the clothes sleeping on a pair of lovers’ backs. Pollecoff likes to use the shiny objects – beaded evening dresses, cans of Diet Coke and cigarettes – to distract us, so that his punches to the gut (“I don’t think she really dug motherhood”) are even more winding with their element of surprise.
People, too, are scattered through the collection, strangers name-checked in poem titles – Max, Shane – thrown among people from the news, Dr Shipman and Mr Blair, and writers, Frank O’Hara and Alan Ayckbourn. Reading the collection feels like passing through a party, surrounded by strangers, and hearing snippets of conversation. No one stops to talk to you, and you both long for and fear this, because you’re carrying some great tragedy that’s just waiting to escape from your mouth.
The urgency of the pamphlet’s title intrigued me, and I picked it expecting some kind of safety kit, a lesson that demanded to be learned. I had never read any Pollecoff before, so this collection was like sitting down to have a conversation with a stranger. I was greeted with an overcoated and unassuming figure who kept insisting other people were more interesting than they were – and, in doing so, convinced me they were the most fascinating person I had ever met. This feeling is summarised by the second stanza of ‘Dudley Market’, the third poem in the collection:
I never know what to say to the woman
who lives three doors down – pouring
Ribena for the kids, comparing
her childhood to ours, she says
that she played with her sisters
in the ballroom of their home in Kenya,
which ends conversation.
This is how he ends his poem, and all his poems – that uncomfortable finality of nothing else to be said.
It seems like in a collection so overflowing with scraps and peopled with chattermouths, it would be hard to find anything to keep hold of, but Pollecoff builds his poetry from the glint on the gold, the chip on the glass, the little thing that catches your eye. It is, to quote his poem ‘Newsnight’, “a moment of consideration, a snap from routine, like a cold snap”, followed by “the relief of never being newsworthy”. It is poetry that makes the inessential essential, that tells you that a book of poetry must be carried with you at all times.