London Grip Poetry Review – Simon Alderwick


Poetry review – WAYS TO SAY WE’RE NOT ALONE: Louise Warren enjoys Simon Alderwick’s distinctive and original imagination and use of language


ways to say we’re not alone
Simon Alderwick
Broken Sleep Books
ISBN 97816938069

With its matt black cover and lower-case title, Simon Alderwick’s first collection ways to say we’re not alone, is deceptively understated. At first glance the poems appear slight on the page, but they pull an unnerving and powerful punch. Read one. Stop. Read it again slowly.

I sold a kidney, put everything
on black. I don’t fit. a war
we started

The words might seem puzzling, out of sync, like fragments of conversation, or in the style of ‘cut-up’ or ‘found’ poetry. But the oddness begins to make a strange, recognisable sense.

you, who left
too many holes,
how the hell
you get my number?

I know these words, for me they are current and ricochet around my world. Alderwick’s poems deal with the everyday anxieties of too much information or not enough information, of longing, of feeling lost and confused. His poems are about love, while exploring our transience in the natural world and our complicity in its destruction:

Can’t come out today
bit of a mad one
I was opening a packet of crisps
and found a blue whale inside
I said: normally the packaging
Is inside you

The mood swings between conversational, surreal, funny, and devastating: ‘I said for the love of god / It’s still alive’. To add to the strangeness, Alderwick rarely uses capital letters, he plays around with punctuation, and sometimes he uses textspeak such as ‘cos’, ‘thru’, ‘ya’. Many of the poems explore the transitory nature of our planet, often linked with the fleeting fragility of our lives, and the relationships we build. He tells us:

The storm was a once in a hundred years kind of storm
I’d be lying if I said when I held
you I felt more than rattling bones

In his poems Alderwick features as a lover, a father, a man missing those he loves, feeling the distances between people and the need to be connected. By using a child’s building block as a phone, as in the poem “The Game”, he neatly plays with these themes of distance and the anxiety that comes with it:

My daughter holds
a red building block to her cheek
says: hello, I pick up another brick, say: hello.
no daddy, she says, taking my hand,
you’re in London.

Later on in the poem he plays at being an airplane flying around the living room. These simple devices will ring true to any parent – ‘it feels good to make a game of it.’

Flight is a recurring motif, as is water. I found the poem “Interlude “ especially powerful as it follows a sequence of events after a car crash. For me, through the image of the boatman before the brutal wake up into reality, it captured brilliantly the nightmare quality, the out of body sensations:

an oarsman sent me across a lake towards a doorway
what is this?
nobody knows
I walk thru into the light

These poems move lightly between the everyday and the larger picture, because some of them do possess a mythic quality. Yet they are never earnest, never ponderous or weighed down by their own importance. A child plays with a pet cloud. A shower head rains up to the ceiling. A volcano erupts in a shopping mall. There is a kind of modern magic in the words, ‘we were swept along the garden path down river,’ but Alderwick is quick to bring us back, so we don’t get carried away:’we were almost lost,/ like car keys down the sofa.’

All through these poems there is a search for connection, for a way to say we are not alone, while always being conscious of our own fragility, our mortality:

scissors catch the moonlight, holding water
in your hands. We the undertow, caught in the flow.
Shadows against a light we stare into, we are counter
to the laws of things. All we know is we will die.

On the act of writing itself, Alderwick is eloquent as he tells of how we can pass our story forward:

our language is flint and steel
stuck in a cave,
not light
but giver of light.
How beautiful is that?
We must learn ancient curses to honour the past
and pick up cuss words of the youth.

In this collection, Alderwick has certainly done that. I am looking forward to seeing what he does next.

Postscript: This week I heard that Broken Sleep Books were unsuccessful with their bid for Arts Council Funding. It is such a difficult time for small poetry presses as they strive to keep afloat and surviving on sales of books and the love of it and therefore it’s all the more  important that there are buyers for good books such as this one.