Aug 6 2023
Poetry review – SAY IT WITH ME: Pat Edwards finds freshness in Vanessa Lampert’s treatment of life’s ups and downs
What a great way to open a collection: a gutsy poem that pulls no punches, imagining an idealised park with “no Fuck off gouged on a bench/by an angry hand”. It goes on to promise “no bags of shit dangling from branches/like baubles”and instead gifts its user “great beds of roses” and “fistfuls of stars”. This poem heralds the power to come in Lampert’s writing, and gets things off to a terrific start.
The early poems give glimpses of a determined child trying to wrench limpets off rocks and trampling on sand cars so other children can’t. There’s an awareness of the tensions between young men and women, of the grind of the working week, and of family life, the inevitability of change. I enjoyed reading ‘In The Olden Days’ with its tongue-in-cheek rant about how, within living memory, the whole business of sex, contraception, pregnancy, and finding out the gender of your kids has gone from being pretty much down to chance to being ruled by technology. There are references in other poems to many things that some of us can remember, things like circuses, only just becoming retro, that are such familiar reminiscences.
The poems move on from early married life, to finding your children grown up and your youth gone, and people you love have vanished or died. It’s what happens of course, but Lampert has a knack of presenting this in engaging, sometimes wry, poems. She even tries to change history and imagine what things might have been like if, for example, a father hadn’t died young. In ‘Wimbledon 2020’, she will see the dad:
smile to himself, because he saw the dreams of another man come true, and he saw that man kiss a shining trophy then raise it to show the sky.
The poem is tender and the reader learns of a father who “knows how to take a victory and make it his victory, and my victory.”
The sea and birds are recurring themes in the collection, vehicles for talking about a stepfather, holidays, loss, freedom. Other animals too play their part – the hamster, the dogs. In ‘Still Life with Story’, we get the true awfulness of the loss of a brother. Here, the poet says “I’ve missed so many dawns/and their choruses for the love of sleep”, contrasting with the tragic “He walked/up the lane with his dog and took/his own life.” It’s so matter-of-fact and chilling, written in couplets, and echoes the opening poem about a park that was mentioned earlier.
Following on from this is another strong poem, ‘How to Avoid Clichés’, an essential poem for all us poets and for anyone who needs reminding that life is a profound mixture of joy and sadness which needs living fully. The depiction of a hospice nurse is rather beautiful:
she had recited a list of possible happinesses for your dad in a soft voice, whilst slowly stroking his forearm… the palm of his hand was upturned, reminding you of a clean ashtray or Christ
It isn’t long before the poet returns to her characteristic humour in ‘The Menopausal’, who “have consigned all g-strings to landfill”. This is swiftly followed by ‘Canada’ in which a clinician confirms “Yep/everything’s nicely shut down in there”, with reference to a woman’s ovaries. No wonder our woman dreams of Cornish beaches, stray dogs in Greece, and dressing up for an amazing night out listening to “our song”. In closing the collection, ‘End Party’ confirms “the children we once were/are alive and well” but “standing on a hill/letting go.”
These poems straddle many topics which are not new to poets, the curve of lifetimes, our loves and losses, but they are certainly tackled with a freshness and real skill in manipulating language into special phrases and narratives. The reader might easily get the feeling they’d enjoy spending time with this writer; she’d be fun and endlessly naughty, a bit anarchic, but ultimately wise.