The Status of the Cat by Sean Elliott
(Playdead Press 2013 www.playdeadpress.com)
Ideas of Space in Contemporary Poetry by Ian Davidson, (Palgrave Macmillan 2007)
In his fascinating study of notions of space in the world of contemporary poetry Ian Davidson refers at one point to Gaston Bachelard’s ideas of a house being a place of accumulated memory, the accumulation being produced by the repetition of apparently insignificant actions. Davidson writes about poets from Olson and Dorn to Ralph Hawkins and Fanny Howe. Spaces dominate Sean Elliott’s poems from the open beach at Dawlish to the ‘tiny pubs’ of Kent’s East Coast or the ‘white houses by the sea’ at Margate. The tone is unmistakably Larkinesque. ‘Margate’ opens up with a stanza which bears comparison with ‘Afternoons’:
Old world, perhaps: white houses by the sea,
the shops which may reopen in the spring,
even the clubs embrace stability:
the smoking boys, the laughing girls who sing
the latest hits against the winter gale,
an interlude of joy then home to tea.
Their young replace them without fail.
The tone of Larkin is caught between the compact accuracy of ‘white houses by the sea’ and the slightly wry sense of a present in relation to a possible future. The shops may reopen in the spring confirming our present situation placed in the closed season of ‘the winter gale’. The stability of progression which is repetition is firmly there in the last line with its echo of the final stanza of Larkin’s poem in which the courting places ‘are still courting places /(But the lovers are all in school)’. Larkin’s tone of quietly resigned optimism informs the final stanza of Sean Elliott’s poem:
Old women talk of when a summer’s crowd
would clog the coast, some comic’s punning speech
bewitched the closed theatres; we were proud.
Defeat like perfume soughs across the beach,
the wind performs a Pierrot’s drab routine;
lovers no longer pay to laugh aloud.
I cross my town’s historic green.
As with Larkin this picture gives us generalities, ‘Old women’, (not to be confused with T.S. Eliot’s ‘ancient women’ who carry a weight of classical allusion) and then a movement to make the general specific with ‘some comic’s punning speech’. The blurring of time and the past’s reconstruction through anecdote or gossip is nicely caught with the adjective ‘some’ and the movement which has led to the closing down of that old world is held in reminiscence as ‘Defeat’ is scent caught on the noise of a dry beach.
Sean Elliott will be reading from this collection on Wednesday 19th February at 7.00 p.m. in the Poetry Café on Betterton Street in Covent Garden.
Ian Brinton 13th February 2014