Sarah Barnsley, the phoenix of ‘The Fire Station’

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The Fire Station by Sarah Barnsley is being officially launched on Thursday 12th November at Goldsmith’s, University of London, where Sarah teaches. It is published by Telltale Press so I can hardly claim to be impartial about it. But I have to say something, because her poetry is exceptional.

The Fire Station is a pamphlet which is partly autobiographical, detailing a relationship with a erratic — but plainly loved — father who once worked as a fireman. Some of the poems are set in the scorched aftermath of her father’s difficulties having lost his job through injury.

The poems collected here are the work of a writer who has emerged from these childhood challenges with her humour hardened and fire-tempered. She also has a clear perception of tragedy but never allows this to stoop to self-indulgence. My current favourite of the fire themed poems is called Big Hands. The poem smoulders with a hard-won black humour.

When you put my budgie
under the grill
and apologied for not being

able to afford a microwave
to resuscitate him
I didn’t think you were mad.

You didn’t think I was mad,
conducting a bird
funeral on the patio, reading

from Genesis, scattering
cornflakes on
the rosebud in lots of three.

I wasn’t I was seven. But
you were forty-two
when you shat in a bag in

Morrison’s car park and
laughed,

Gradually the fire abates in The Fire Station and a lyrical liquidity emerges. The poem Les Rapides Faciles describes with effortless originality two people kayaking to the supermarket, “slaloming around postboxes,/wheelie bins, silver birches”. But the poem surprises us with a gorgeous and candid declaration of love. Wonderful stuff, isn’t it?

We may rush corners,
tumble down the rapids of

Victorian-banked streets,
but it’s the gliding I like best,

the effortless, continuous flow
of being with you, the kingfishers

and dragonflies dipping into our
gentle wash like magic sapphires.

About Peter Kenny

I lead a double life. Identity #1. A writer of poems, plays, libretti, prose, journalism and so on. Identity #2: A marketing outlier, working with London creative agencies and my own clients as a copywriter and creative consultant.
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