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Neil Fulwood

“Items” by Martin Stannard, pub. Red Ceilings Press. 32 pages.

Martin Stannard’s 2016 Leafe Press collection "Poems for the Young at Heart" opened with ‘One Week in the Life’, a sequence of seven observational pieces whose small, strange details whet the reader’s curiosity while some unidentified something lurks just out of sight. It’s an enigmatic piece and one that I’ve kept going back to. It has the power to unsettle.

"Items", Stannard’s new pamphlet from Red Ceilings Press, seems like a companion piece to ‘One Week in the Life’, albeit in a more playful, less sinister register.

     Spring arrived this morning I saw a chaffinch

     Perched on the telephone wires between showers

     Leaves are appearing on trees

     [‘Item 2’]

     A man splashes down the street and remembers

     The Alhambra was a splendid theatre

     My bedroom is decorated with happy posters

     [‘Item 10’]

Or maybe not: just four lines later ‘Item 10’ is trading, with almost banal indifference, in the kind of existential dread that wouldn’t be out of place in a David Lynch film.

     When you go to sleep at night

     It is as if the world is switched off

     And then it’s not this world or anything like it

Not that the shift in tone is unexpected. Instability seeps through in ‘Item 3’: “The shack has fallen down” and it doesn’t look like the treehouse will survive the stormy night or “[t]he tree too, for that matter”. The narrator frets at the likelihood of alternative lodgings:

     Did we sell the tent? I can’t find the tent

     I don’t remember selling the tent

"Items" washes between cheerful little details, weird little details and troubling little details, defining its own buoyancy as it trades on the imagery of water. ‘Item 1’ is happy to listen to “the sound of the waves”, but storms soon sweep in, possessions are at risk of drifting away, and we’re all at the mercy of The God of Rain. “Please come and write the water with me” Stannard implores in ‘Item 1’, but by ‘Item 9’ he’s musing “I wish water could be persuaded to burn” and it’s as clear that chaos reigns as if a talking fox had announced it in a Lars Von Trier film.

Or maybe a Michael Haneke film. “The world exists but I don’t like some of it / I’ve known people and don’t like some of them” (‘Item 8’) certainly sounds more Haneke than Von Trier. But I could be wrong.

There’s a lot in this pamphlet I could be wrong about - the importance of the Imperial 70 typewriter, for instance, or why the water reference in ‘Item 14’ makes an idiom literal and therefore isn’t technically a water reference while ironically still working as one in order to maintain the structural status quo - and I’m loathe to impose my own interpretation on the piece since much of the pleasure in "Items" derives from the reader’s own manoeuvres through its ellipses and ironies. To this end, a set of notes purposefully adds nothing to the reader’s understanding of the work, while the acknowledgements section suggests an entirely different reading.

Copyright © Neil Fulwood, 2018