An independent small press poetry review

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ISBN 1 904420 16 8

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Pauline Rowe's PLAYING OUT TIME is a clever little pamphlet that has been divided into two sections: assorted/personal experience poems and those devoted to the subject of her infant son. Rowe avoids sentimentality with an amused, almost mocking detachment, inviting us to share her joke at herself and possesses incredible diversity of poetic voice. This diversity is put to good use with the title sequence of poems PLAYING OUT TIME, when we enter the mind of a child and Rowe reaches back to convey childish impressions. An eloquent example is the second poem of the sequence, ASTHMA:

	in the night
	hard breathing
	fills the house,
	astronauts arrive
	spinning blue lights
	on the ceiling.
In a society dominated by space travel as ours has been since the sixties, a child's leap of imagination is accurately conveyed in a brief scene. Short lines conjure up a child's halting and traumatised description, and help to emphasise important images such as
	Astronauts arrive
	Spinning blue lights
The blue lights flashing on the ceiling, the paramedics in their boiler suits rushing around with unwieldy equipment and the noise of her sister's struggle for breath in a silent sleep filled house create a lasting picture for us, as well as for the young girl who witnessed this emergency. Rowe uses the same vocal technique to return to a previous self in the second section, when she writes of being pregnant and of all the frustrations associated with it. She does this poignantly in WAITING:
	Hear my voice.
	Leave me.
	Let me stop praying
	for the pain to start.
	I am waiting for news.
	I am suspended,
	always dressed
	in the wrong clothes.
	A woman in blue
	may come running
	with a message
	that you cannot come today.
Rowe has put across exactly how pregnant women feel in these long drawn out days waiting for the first contraction to begin the birthing process. Again, her use of short lines help to create the sense of frustration, the shortness of patience and the physical discomfort felt as the baby begins to restrict physical activity and the lungs are pushed up so far that breaths become restricted. Rowe's sensitive poems trace the process from ultrasound to caring for the newborn at home, and in her poem COMING HOME she goes on to give a perfect visual description of how a woman feels in the immediate aftermath of birth
	I came home in disguise
	wearing a suit of skin
	that didn't fit.
Skin is a kind of suit and a suit is a kind of identity. Rowe taps into two channels with these few lines. The physical suit of skin that is stretched beyond recognition, still covering weight gained during pregnancy when every woman secretly hopes it will all be shed once the baby is delivered; and the new suit, the identity of suddenly being a mother, of taking on a whole new persona and set of responsibilities. There are some lovely lines in this collection, lines that need to be thought of and will be referred to again and again.

While Pauline Rowe is a commendable poet, her collection appears to be based very firmly in write what you know and I can't help but wonder what her poetry could achieve if she allowed her imagination free rein.

Despite this incredible talent, however, PLAYING OUT TIME has been sorely let down by its presentation. Not only is the saddle-stapled jacket of amateur appearance with the Epson Photo Paper brand showing on the inside covers, but my copy had only one staple firmly in place; I expect the other to wriggle itself free in embarrassment shortly! Poetry is an aesthetic art, aural obviously, but also visual in the patterning of the words and in a collection's presentation. Another blow for the pamphlet is the lack of editing and proof-reading. In poetry, where every word and punctuation mark counts, sloppy proof-reading runs the risk of ruining a collection.

Presentation aside, this is a lovely collection of poetry. Her slightly mocking voice ensures none of the sloppy sentimentality and pathos that can be so excruciating to readers sick to death of experience/realism poetry. I look forward to reading her next collection, and I heartily hope that she is encouraged to let her imagination run wild.

reviewer: Fionna Doney Simmonds.