Skip to main content

Guest Review: Gibb On Chase & Grant

Alison Gibb reviews
Shooting the Breeze
By Linda Chase and Len Grant

Shooting the Breeze is a collection of poetry about the people, for the people. A collaborative project between American poet Linda Chase and British photographer Len Grant that started out as a bit of an experiment, became a slide show/reading for the Didsbury Arts Festival 2010 and finally this book. A collection of compelling documentary portrait photographs and simple poems, it celebrates the lives of the residents and passers-by in four diverse communities in Manchester, which they met over the course of a day.

Chase and Grant’s mobile Show‘N Tell photographic studio creates a contagious energy of curiosity and optimism that is present in both the portraits and the poems. Babies, couples, elderly ladies, teenagers, unemployed young men and workers all beam out of the pages of the book. Grant’s excellent photographs make VIPs of all his subjects. His images capture the self-respect, dignity, pride and humour of these people. They are a show of humanity at its best, further demonstrated in the generosity of the subjects to participating in this project. Each double page is made up of images and a poem. The photographs are inviting and a pleasure to look at. The poems, short and sweet, complement the images. Chase’s simple, naïve writing style, creates confident, unpretentious poems. Here, she writes in response to her experiences on the day. The content and form of her poems incorporate what she sees, hears, feels and exchanges with the people she encounters. In ‘Esprit’, Chase refers to the logo on Rebecca’s, Spirit of Cherokee, T-shirt, to set the tone and title of her poem.

At other times she take risks and she goes off on a whim. ‘White Cello Case’, a poem accompanied by a photograph of man standing with a white cello case, is little more than a play on the White Rabbit’s familiar lines in Alice of Wonderland ‘…I’m late, I’m late, how can we still debate / Tchaikovsky or Prokofiev? / I’m late, I’m late, I’m late!’ Here, collaboration has freed the poet, allowing her to write impulsively, associating what she sees with a known lyric. The factual strength of the image, allows the poet to be more fanciful with her text. The poem’s lack of originality, is easily forgiven when read in relation to the image of the man with the white cello case, presumably late for his next appointment.

Occasionally, Chase seems to gets a bit carried away with herself, projecting through the poems what she imagines or hopes these peoples lives to be: ‘Let’s Say’ a poem and image of two young men sitting on one push bike, seem to be entire make-believe: ‘..Let’s say they’ve had a hearty breakfast of bread, / cheese, olives and tomatoes with Arturus’s aunt.’  At other times, her playfulness is put to better use, adding to the spontaneous energy of the photographic moment:  In ‘Couple’, a poem and image of a young couple in their early twenties, Chase uses the language of their professions as metaphors to gently spin a fitting love poem: ‘…His labourer’s hands pile, / one on top of the other ….Her hairdresser’s hands stack… …plaiting and intertwining.’

It is hard to imagine Chase editing these poems much. Here less is more.  In keeping the poem simple and not overly worked on, she is able to stay closer to her initial experience and to produce more genuine impressions.  ‘Standing’, a poem and close-up photograph of young boy, demonstrates Chase’s talent to create complex impressions in a few simple words:

Declan has waited patiently
for his turn to come.

Natkita, his sister who’s four
wants to stay beside her nana.

Gail, their nana, says it’s fine
for Declan to stand for them all.

And he does. Declan the artist,
the drummer, the  Man U fan.

What does Declan the artist draw?
Fiction, he says. Pure Fiction.

Grant’s photographs are extremely compelling and easy to imagine as an exhibition of large-scale prints. Few of the Chase’s poems, however, seem strong enough to stand alone without the appropriate image. Together, image and poem present a sunny, optimistic commentary on the day’s events, the people that they met and the inspirational effect of these encounters. As Chase explains at the end of the collections, the point of the project was to be collaborative, as artists and also as fellow human beings: “… I feel that these short pieces are more like captions than like free standing poems, which had been our goal all along – to create an integrated, collaborative work – poet and photographer, poems and images, people and their communitites.”

Shooting the Breeze is a great collection of photographs with accompanying poems that celebrates an optimistic view of ordinary life.

Alison Gibb has an MA in Writing Poetry from Kingston University. She is a poet and lives in Cambridge. 


Popular posts from this blog

Review of the new Simple Minds album - Walk Between Worlds

Taste is a matter of opinion - or so goes one opinion. Aesthetics, a branch of pistols at dawn, is unlikely to become unruffled and resolved any time soon, and meantime it is possible to argue, in this post-post-modern age, an age of voter rage, that political opinion trumps taste anyway. We like what we say is art. And what we say is art is what likes us.

Simple Minds - the Scottish band founded around 1977 with the pale faces and beautiful cheekbones, and perfect indie hair cuts - comes from a time before that - from a Glasgow of poverty and working-class socialism, and religiosity, in a pre-Internet time when the heights of modernity were signalled by Kraftwerk, large synthesisers, and dancing like Bowie at 3 am in a Berlin club.

To say that early Simple Minds was mannered is like accusing Joyce of being experimental. Doh. The band sought to merge the icy innovations of German music with British and American pioneers of glam and proto-punk, like Iggy Pop; their heroes were contrived,…


Wheeler Light for 'Life Jacket'.

The runner-up is: Daniel Duffy - 'President Returns To New York For Brief First Visit'

Wheeler Light currently lives in Boulder, Colorado.

Life Jacket

summer camp shirtsI couldn’t fit in then
are half my size nowI wanted to wear
smaller and smallerarticles of clothing
I shrunk to the sizethat disappeared

of an afterthoughtin a sinking ship body
too buoyant to sinktoo waterlogged for land
I becamea dot of sand


With the death of the poetic genius John Ashbery, whose poems, translations, and criticism made him, to my mind, the most influential American poet since TS Eliot, 21st century poetry is moving into less certain territory.

Over the past few years, we have lost most of the truly great of our era: Edwin Morgan, Gunn, Hill, Heaney and Walcott, to name just five.  There are many more, of course. This is news too sad and deep to fathom this week.  I will write more perhaps later. 

I had a letter from Ashbery on my wall, and it inspired me daily.  He gave me advice for my PhD. He said kind things about a poetry book of mine.

He was a force for good serious play in poetry, and his appeal great. So many people I know and admire are at a loss this week because of his death. It is no consolation at present to think of the many thousands of living poets, just right now. But impressively, and even oddly, poetry itself seems to keep flowing.