When you have bought this new Oystercatcher Press collection, and I urge you to do precisely that, turn to the poem titled ‘SUNSPOT’, the opening lines of which set a tone which reverberates with the tones of what the poet has already read:
a colourless yard
bar a couple of daffodils left to yellow
& burn in the sun—left to sunlight
bleak grey sun cloudless
the wreckage of a Victorian fuchsia
the back gate in all its glory
blue—faded to turquoise—paint peels
in a town so small you can walk across it in minutes
not hours or days or weeks—a city—
One of the echoes of this evocation of Paris draws us back, as readers, to John James’s ‘To a Young Art Student in London’ from his 1967 Ferry Press publication MMM…AH YES:
Nothing moving on the suburban streets of every European city—
you can only be sure of your own pattern of the force, revealed
in meteorite storms of colour
figuring the space round
your own iris,
next year’s buds
this year’s plant, the tree’s
where no eye can see
It is no accident that the figure of John James, poet of Bristol, Cambridge and France, should figure so clearly in this little volume of poems. ‘The Night Station’ is for John James, the Equipage publication In Romsey Town is mentioned as is that early Ferry Press publication already mentioned. Two years after the publication of MMM… AH YES, Andrew Crozier published his own poem to James in Walking on Grass:
Every time you see him John’s fringe has grown shorter
so he waves it at you, and with the steel-framed
sartorial spectacle of an illustrious trans
tight vested poet, and a pleated vent,
he’s on home ground.
And these poems by Simon Smith are on ‘home ground’. It isn’t just the opening poem dedicated to Flick Allen (the FELICITÉ of the cover); it’s the localising of emotion ‘Round the Corner’ in Ramsgate, the memory of another Ferry Press publication, David Chaloner’s Chocolate Sauce, the swift movement from a Paris courtyard to Charing Cross Road; the continued accumulation of experience held in a ‘carrier bag life’ which concludes for a brief moment, a gesture, at Canterbury’s Mrs Jones’ Kitchen on 2nd of May last year.
The other John that comes to my mind at this moment is Riley whose Correspondences were published by The Human Constitution in 1970:
‘I am always on the dark side of the window, looking at them all living in the lights. I’m in good company, but with ghosts, and on the other side human beings are so solid and bright.’
Susan to John, Whitby 3rd August 1961.
Or again, describing her journey through Crete Susan writes about Knossos and the underground storerooms where the pots ‘move in their stillness’. Referring to a refusal to search for aesthetic experiences she writes ‘you just walked into the experience and everything that happened was part of it and peaceful and O.K…I’ve stopped wanting to work myself up over things; if something’s going to interest me it can come and hit me in the eye.’
This little chapbook by Simon Smith lands a punch!
Ian Brinton 20th April 2015