Tag Archives: HappenStance Press

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Helena Nelson, ‘On Gloom and Proper Respect’

He doesn’t exactly blame her for it. No,
it’s not her fault. She is the way she is—
incorrigibly optimistic. But
the strain of her unbridled cheerfulness

must tell. His gloom requires due diligence.
It’s there to serve a need, and needs a slow
and proper processing. That’s it—a proper pro-
cessing. To this he must commit, and hence

his necessary isolation. No,
he is not depressed. He’s just process-
ing. Some ‘thing’ is passing through. It will go
eventually, but it must run its course.

The weight of doom would be a minor stress
if she would just dispense with cheerfulness.

Helena Nelson writes: “This poem is part of a book-length sequence telling the story of an ordinary, conventional marriage (albeit a second marriage for each partner). It’s about love that struggles to survive the difficulties of aging, loss and illness. The husband, Mr Philpott, has always suffered from anxiety but he has bouts of depression too, when he withdraws into himself. In fact, he might fairly be described as a ‘difficult’ man, though he can’t help it. Here the sonnet form reflects his need for tight control, repressing his anxiety about depression, which gets squeezed uncomfortably across the line breaks. There’s humour here, too. Because how absurd it is, surely, to wish your wife were less cheerful? And yet he does. He certainly does.” 

Helena Nelson runs HappenStance Press and sometimes writes poems, one of which appears in the soon-to-be-released latest Potcake Chapbook, ‘Lost Love’. She has been writing the story of Mr and Mrs Philpott for over twenty years, and it can finally be found in its complete form as Pearls (The Complete Mr and Mrs Philpott Poems)

Review: ‘The Lesser Mortal’ by Geoff Lander

Geoff Lander has produced a score of full-page formal poems about various scientific luminaries: Maxwell, Einstein, Mendeleev and so on, combining career highlights with odd trivia about them. The poems are technically very skilful, with a variety of forms and metres being used (though the book is marred in a couple of places by the typesetting failing to follow the structure of lines and rhymes). Here is an excerpt from ‘On the Shoulders of Others’:

Does the gentle polymath,
Monsieur Henri Poincaré,
buried there in Montparnasse,
ponder how it came to pass
Einstein’s name now dominates
all things relativité?
(…)
In the central USA
near St. Louis one fine day
in 04 he first declared
E might equal mc2.

That was news to me. And it does raise the question of why Einstein should get all the recognition. Another of Lander’s poems, ‘Socks Off to Einstein’, suggests a possible answer:

While others may claim to have seen mc2,
they weren’t sock-eccentric, they weren’t spiky haired.
Their names are forgotten. Quite rightly that rankles–
the price you might pay if you coddle your ankles.
So three cheers for Albert, and get your heels bared!

Lander is a chemist by training and a computer programmer by profession, and poetry only came along when he started writing out other people’s verse to help his right hand recover from a stroke. Then, “encouraged from Scotland by Helena Nelson and from the grave by John Betjeman”, he started writing his own verse of which only a tiny fraction has been published.

New historical information and skilful light verse makes for a powerful combination! This very interesting little book from HappenStance Press contains most of what Geoff Lander has published to date.

Review: ‘Ruth Pitter, Selected Poems’

An excellent selection of some of the better-known and some of the previously uncollected poems of one of the 20th century’s least known but most accomplished poets. Ruth Pitter‘s first book of poems was published with the help of Hilaire Belloc in 1920; her work was admired and praised by Yeats, Larkin, Skelton and Gunn; she was the first woman to win the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 1955, and was awarded a CBE in 1979. She died in 1992.

My personal favourite in this large chapbook from HappenStance is “Smoky Kettle, Stinging Nettle”, for its magical incantation of life and afterlife, of love and loss, of the countryside and all things human:

Smoky kettle,
Stinging nettle,
Lily my darling,
Toad and starling,
Fox in wood,
Solitude,
O be there, be there again,
When my end I shall attain,
When the knot is all unravelled,
And the tangled path is travelled.

But the poem is not typical of her work, and was not previously collected in a book. More commonly her style is like the beginning of ‘Spectrum’:

A little window, eastward, low, obscure,
A flask of water on the vestry press,
A ray of sunshine through a fretted door,
And myself kneeling in live quietness:

Heaven’s brightness was then gathered in the glass,

Her usual style is quiet, understated, with simple metre and rhyme scheme. Often there is a religious element–she was a friend of, and was influenced by, C.S. Lewis–and even an element of Anglican hymns. But none of that was enough to stop the militantly atheist Philip Larkin from including four of her poems in The Oxford Book of Twentieth Century English Verse. And I found enough of interest in this 44-page chapbook to warrant ordering a copy of her ‘Collected Poems’, to explore further.