In The Cinema by Stephen Bone, published by Playdead Press
I bought a copy of In The Cinema at the end of last year, and find these poems have lingered in my mind longer than most. It was the careful mise-en-scène in several of the poems, which first began to intrigue me. Stephen Bone’s choices of objects lends the poems a distinct, slightly down-at-heel 1960s atmosphere. There’s a Baby Belling cooker discovered in an attic, a woman’s ‘perspiration dampening her Yardley powder’ we glimpse a mouth ‘full blown with Victory Red’, or Victory V liquorice lozenges and so on.
Of course care in the description of objects is a characteristic of good writing. But there is something especially charged about this technique in In The Cinema; noticing objects as a displacement from something disturbing, or how anxiety makes us map subjective anxieties onto external objects. For me it is the first poem in this collection, Coal Tar, which best condenses this aspect of Stephen Bone’s work.
Still available. A throwback
to cigarette cards and iodine
Victory Vs. Spit and polish.
The soap, my aunt, who wasn’t,
scrubbed herself with
as if she were a stain.
Her water hard and scalding.
Used to ease her father’s
signet ring from her finger
on hot airtight days
and on me the time I slipped up.
I have never forgotten
the froth, the taste
or the way she set down
a tablet in the lodger’s bathroom
beside the copper taps,
like an unwritten house rule.
An orange threat.
This also nicely demonstrates the poet’s ability to pose more questions than he answers. If she’s not ‘my aunt’ then who is she? And why does she scrub herself like a stain? What had been said to warrant such a mouth-scrubbing punishment?
In Attic, meanwhile, one of the objects literally contains the essence of another person, ‘A yellow beach ball//still limply holding/his father’s breath.’
In Picnic, the trigger objects are photographs that ‘turn up now and then‘. A typical example of In The Cinema’s understated but pervading sadness:
you standing on your hands
claiming you were holding up the world;
and the other moments,
the wasp attack, the freak shower.
Have you your photos somewhere?
This polite understatement acknowledges the hurt below, but also represents the coping mechanism. This sort of thing is unfashionable at the moment. We live in a time when some much of the focus of politics is on the personal, which permits many to shout louder and louder in a hierarchy of suffering. But I find this understatement refreshing.
In Rain, in the middle of a heatwave, and a time in the UK when water was rationed. This rare event comes to stand for an unrepeatable summer.
Water precious as silver we shared baths
where we stopped or dipped flannels into feeble streams;
at night our skin a layer too much
as we sprawled or tangled on sepia grass.
Set To Continue, the news stands read.
The forecast held. In part.
I hope Stephen Bone is set to continue too, as I enjoy his quietly-persuasive work.