Emma Lee is pleased by the musical elements in a new collection by Reuben Woolley

Broken Stories 
Reuben Woolley
20/20 Vision Publishing
ISBN 9781907449031
(no price or contact details given)

The title Broken Stories suggests that the stories were once whole; but a life story is never finished – at least not by a first person narrator. Stories aren’t told in isolation either. Listeners bring inferences and interpretations and may even distort or falsely use the story to their own ends. The first poem implies an influence of music, particularly jazz, “& all that jazz”

the air blow strong
      i wail in layers
      break in tides
i play a moon.

There’s a satisfying layer of sound patterns and the solidity in the long vowels of ‘moon’ suggests resistance to being pushed around by external forces. It’s a theme picked up in “the blue violin” where an old violin is being played by the narrator,

the air vibrates 
just so slightly 
off key

this is how I play
it is my business 
to be dangerous

i do it in crescendo

The final line draws more attention because it doesn’t follow the feminine ‘s’ or ‘y’ endings in the previous lines. ‘Crescendo’ carries the sense of progression in its definition, not spontaneity, so the poem suggests that knowledge and the wisdom of experience allow you play your own tune instead of following someone else’s composition. Music is referred to again in “talks” which starts ‘there’s a rhythm / to midnight negotiations’ and sets up a cliché of ‘dark corners / with wine & whisky’ before concluding music ‘is never & heartbeat’.

The music poems have a happy marriage of form and content which make them the more memorable elements in the book. Reuben Woolley also explores the frustrations of language: because ‘words come late’ they must rely on memories of the event and do not necessarily capture the event itself. Yet this challenge is also an opportunity to reflect on and better understand the event by moving beyond the (possibly) clichéd first thoughts. The reflective afterthoughts may indeed ‘come / hurting’ but they offer a lasting connection to the past event through story telling. The narratives in Broken Stories are still necessary even if they incomplete.

At times Reuben Woolley uses generic phrasing which can sometimes leave a space for the reader’s own interpretation but may at other times act as a barrier by providing a lack of sufficient detail for a reader to focus on. However, most of these poems triumph in their musicality.

Emma Lee’s most recent collection is “Ghosts in the Desert” (IDP, 2015), she co-edited “Over Land, Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge,” and blogs at http://emmalee1.wordpress.com.