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Lockdown Latitudes by Steven Waling (Leafe Press)

Lockdown Latitudes by Steven Waling (Leafe Press)

One way or another many of us have been producing material during the last year or more which relates directly or otherwise to the situation we have been experiencing. Leaving aside Brexit and the all-embracing facts of climate change the Covid virus has been and will no doubt continue to be a source of energy for writers and artists of all kinds. It feels inevitable in fact and there have already been anthologies of poetry appearing to suggest so. Steven Waling’s new book is a mix of diary entry and personal testimony, combing observation with a collage technique which is very appealing.

          ON THIS ROUTE

          there’s lots of farting about   Turning night into day

          the sun wants to lie in bed   gets up full bladder

          rain-packed isobars rumble in from the West

          so I wait five minutes at Random Stop   ten more

          at Just Before You Alright   then flash of hail followed

          by the heavy beauty of blue sky   all the weathers

          in one day   Clouds like buses pile up in threes

          I miss the rush hour   no I don’t   students crammed

          sweatthick into tin cans   talking   who got wasted who’s

          off to Switzerland for Christmas   essays undone

          pick up the Metro for puzzles and sport   after

          the end of the world   green shoots of crocus and

          snowdrops climb on board   poke heads out of verges

          past the park just because you think you’re exempt don’t

          make exceptions   key workers still spend

          half their lives standing    in this fine rain   where’s

          your mask   are you going to be difficult it

          goes on your nose as well as your mouth

Anyone who has used public transport on a regular basis during the past eighteen months will be able to recognise these moments and the mix of fleeting observation and anxiety is well registered. 

     In ‘Sci-Fi Days’ school day memories intertwine with the here-and-now in a manner which attempts to find a way of approaching the changed and estranging situation we find ourselves in – ‘wherever I am / whatever I’m from / it’s not here’ – and name-checks J.G. Ballard (‘Vermillion Sands’), ‘Bismarck and the Entente Cordial,’ the assassination of Franz  Ferdinand and hints towards Bowie and Bolan where on the walk to school ‘aliens / sing   Children of the Revolution / on Top of the Pops.’ In ‘Spring in a Time of Contagion’ where the day-to-day experience appears with occasionally surreal snapshots – ‘next as dolphins swim canals / Only four items of each / product’ – we have a heightened sense of the natural world, interspersed with paranoid snippets and a hinting towards martial law which suggests a wartime footing:

          sky so blue it hurts

          I buy potatoes and a paper

          with puzzles   Crack open buds

          I’ll try to be an optimist

          as poetry makes nothing

          the swallows rejoice clean air

     In ‘Jesus Strolls Down Market Street’ we get a sense of the paranoia and alienation caused by the present situation, allied to a description of a small kindness – ‘Someone pays with his own card’ – which is set in downtown Manchester but could be almost anywhere in the country. ‘Ten Lancashire Words to be Reintroduced to the Language’ introduces an element of playfulness into the proceedings while ‘In Deep Time’ has a contemplative feel which deals with the geological notion while also pondering how our conceptions of time have shifted on a day-to-day basis during the last couple of years. ‘Autobiographica Literaria’ hints at Coleridge and again juxtaposes memories in a snapshot fashion which mixes high art with pop culture and t.v. shows. There’s an overall sense of new opportunities being opened up, at least in terms of artistic procedures, but also an engagement with hard reality as in ‘Showering a Man’ (Steven Waling is a care worker) where we get:

          You must fully engage in the dance

               move shoulders to the middle

               lift the feet onto the plate

               shift the body by degrees

The ending registers an all-too-apt mix of feeling when issues around care and social provision are aired – ‘That’s such a good thing to do. / I know I don’t get paid enough.’

     I’m more aware of Steven Waling as a reviewer of poetry than as a poet as this is the first chapbook of his that I’ve actually read in full. I’ve enjoyed the mix of tradition and experiment which he employs and this memoir set in a hard time has a very human appeal which is easy to respond to while also including an element of playfulness which keeps the pages turning.

Steve Spence 19th November 2021

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