Katherine Lockton reviews
by Clare Pollard
Clare Pollard’s fourth collection Changeling takes on myths and monsters and places them in the world of CCTV, Youtube, and Heat in order to tackle more serious subjects such as world politics, child famine and gangs. This collection moves away from the confessional tone which marked Pollard’s earlier writing towards a more thematic and political writing. Pollard takes us on a journey where we must “hang on tight and not let go and not let go.” A master of rhythm, Pollard manipulates lines by slowing them down or increasing their pace as a means of highlighting and making more serious points easier to digest.
One of the aspects that makes this collection stand out from Pollard’s earlier works is her ability to ask important questions in a subtle yet direct way. She doesn’t preach her own political views but rather opens ideas up for discussion. As she points out “if wrong feels right, then what are you sir?.” She develops this idea of wrong versus right in ‘Two Ravens’ where she explores the idea that if something is good then the opposite must be bad; “if they’re bad she’s good” and “if she’s bad we’re good.” The chiasmus here, as in other poems in this collection, is used to build up and emphasise important ideas and questions.
Pollard is not afraid to ask serious questions, neither is she shy of sharing her own political views. Perhaps the best example of this is ‘Pendle’ where she write in the second person as a means of personalising the issue so we care more. She does not prescribe us political morphine, she gives us the option of taking poetic Calpol instead. She does this by softening up and weaving the most serious points within the fabric of her poems:
When your children curdle like milk & turn one by one to clay dolls,
and your husband’s fledgling-weak & you’re a good Christian woman,
then someone is to blame.
This is hidden amongst lines such as “when you dream of a woman fucking goats” and “when you imagine her face yoked in a bridle” not because Pollard is scared but because the combination makes the journey both an entertainment and interrogation.
This is not to say that Pollard is not direct in tackling world politics, as we can see in ‘30th’ where she tells us that “we are so lucky and disgusting and we will pay for this tomorrow.”
Another way Pollard uses entertainment to explore serious issues is ‘Tam Lin’s Wife’ where myth is adopted and reinterpreted so that love surviving and withstanding change is used to include illness in the last stanza:
Dear Husband, all those things I prize in you –
your beauty, kindness, laugh –
are stripped off one by one
but even with them gone
my boy stares out from stricken shapes,
and love has no conditions. None.
This last stanza is emblematic of Pollard’s compact, rhythmical writing through out the book.
Pollard is at her best though when she combines powerful imagery and rhythm as in ‘The Skulls of Dalston.’ It is not often that a poet presents the more demanding of their work at readings, often opting for poems that are crowd pleasers and little else. Pollard though chose to read some of her strongest pieces at her launch - including ‘The Skulls of Dalston” - arguably the best poem in the collection, which explores gang culture on a journey through the streets of East London.
The poem’s strength is obvious from the first few lines where we learn of “sherbert death-heads, jack o’lanterns, acme eyeballs pinging in eye-caves, tombstone teeth in bubblegums.” Pollard takes an image, compares it to something else, develops it and just before we are tired of it moves on to another one that is in the same world. She does this in a subtle, skillful way which shows she is a master manipulator of words.
This poem further develops the idea of differencences addressed earlier in her work, but here it is explored through the use of synonyms, which although similar in essence are different:
If I’m a blank, then he’s a void,
if I’m the scum, then he’s the dregs,
if I’m a ghost then he’s a shadow,
if I’m pigeon-shit then he’s a crow.
This idea is used to show just how different the gang world is to ours so that even when on the same street “we are not on the same street.” A real accomplishment of this poem is the way Pollard manipulates pace and imagery as it takes on the gang members’ language; “Murder Dem Pussies.” It leaves us where we began the journey, at home, but somehow our home has changed “so it’s best not to look…..We do not look.”
Katherine Lockton has published poetry in magazines such as Magma and Rising, online at whippersnapper press, Poetry 24 and Eyewear and read her poetry live on BCB radio.