Emma Lee praises Jason Lee’s collection as an excellent example of Eyewear’s distinctive house style

Burning Box 
Jason Lee
Eyewear Publishing
ISBN 9781911335511
64pp    £10.99


If there is a typical Eyewear book, this is it: wry observations, muscular language with every word earning its place, provocatively challenging the reader to re-think their own assumptions and prejudices. ‘Poet for Hire’ looks at the pitfalls of being one,

You revel in it. Your completed books on the shelf,
the way your daughter came into the library and
found them, proud to be your daughter.
You claim poets like Simon Armitage charge a fortune,
then see his name written in the urinal.
When will you ever learn? To leave the house is futile,
to leave everything is necessary. 'Thanks for looking
at me,' says the beggar woman by Camden Lock.
Even at the age of four, every door you can go through 
depends on the tie you've worn.

There’s always another level of achievement: one book leads to the next; being able to charge a fee for a reading draws comparisons with those who can charge more; the honesty of washroom graffiti is a reminder of how many people you haven’t yet reached – all of which leaves the poem’s addressee feeling like the woman at Camden Lock begging for attention and aware of the ugliness of that. The tone is bittersweet, the accumulation of details suggesting the poem’s addressee shouldn’t get ideas or ambitions above their station.

Responsibility is explored in ‘All About My Mother’,

then watch a rape scene
with my mother

and the film
has changed the novel
to really blame the mother
a device of the director
if it's not one thing it is
All About My Mother

It tends to be mothers, rather than fathers, who get the blame for how children turn out. The poem’s directness and subversion of the cliché at the end suggests that for an adult child to continually blame their parent, instead of taking responsibility for their own lives, isn’t a comfortable place to be. In the same way, watching “a rape scene/with my mother” stops the observer simply seeing a scene in a film because the mother’s presence prompts the observer to think about the implications of what they’re seeing. It’s clear that responsibility for the change between book and film lies with the director although the reference back to the title implies the director will deflect the blame. It’s a poem where the repetition is really effective at drawing the reader’s attention back to the theme and gives the poem its underlying structure.

In ‘Sick-Com’, TV blends with reality,

Plastic dinosaurs await, as does the IKEA
Temple down the motorway

Parents discuss which McDonald's
While we mutter our goodbyes.
Teenagers slide inside for dialysis.

Curled and swallowed by the chair, she cries
As a toddler with dwarfism escapes.

TV now declares its history.

This blurs real and fake with images and scenes that could be either, even “we mutter our goodbyes”; muttering occurs when we’re not intent on communicating, just going through the motions or hoping the other person doesn’t hear. I can hear this performed as a stage whisper, like a wildlife programme narrator, especially with sibilance of “s” sounds at the ends of lines in the second and third quoted stanzas. It becomes a comment on the human zoo.

Burning Box is an epitome of a typical Eyewear publication, and a recommended read.

Emma Lee‘s most recent publication is Ghosts in the Desert (IDP, 2015) and she was co-editor for Over Land Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge (Five Leaves, 2015) and Welcome to Leicester (Dahlia Publishing, 2016). She blogs at http://emmalee1.wordpress.com