Adelle Stripe’s Cigarettes in Bed is not her first venture with Blackheath Books, they have already published her first collection Some Things are Better Left Unsaid (2008). Blackheath Books is a young independant press that aims to publish ‘literary outsiders, mavericks’, in short, anyone going against the conventional current. Stripe, as one of the founders of the Brutalist poetry movement, a group that calls for ‘levels of raw honesty’ untouched by the mainstream, certainly fits their bill.
Blackheath Books are proud of having started their small press at a time when printed matter was being abandoned, and it is easy to see how they’ve survived: aesthetically, the pamphlet is beautiful. The cover is simply made out of cardboard with two holes on the front giving us a glimpse of a red interior (patterned with Blackeath Books’ logo) like two cigarette burns.
Stripe’s style is a mixture of plain everyday register mixed with bizarre, surprising and often exciting images, such as her description in ‘Sacred Heart’ of Montmartre’s Sacré Coeur as ‘(an old taj mahal dripping wax on pigalle)’. She delights in relating tales of decay: of deadbeat towns (‘Babylon’) where the pub is a place for ‘blotting the tears with lager and dope’; of opened envelopes where the glitter of sentimental poems are now ‘reduced to dust’; of trash that is both moving and beautiful:
‘the fading confetti sticks
to the wet stone walls
like fallen apple blossom’
Yet in other poems, such as her opening work ‘After Dusk’, the simplicity is a disappointment rather than a strength. When Stripe writes of being a ‘rack of old lamb / dressed up as mutton’ it is as if she is laughing at the reader for expecting more from her language.
The collection travels to Iceland (‘Shanty’), France (‘Sacred Heart’), London (‘After Dusk’) and various parts of Yorkshire she returns to with new eyes (‘Relics’, ‘Slight Return’). Stripe also features a sequence of haikus set in her hometown (‘Mytholmroyd Haikus’). The theme of belonging and finding comfort is unsurprisingly a recurring one, expressed in one of the haikus for instance:
‘this is my cradle;
asleep in your warm chest hair
your heart beat lullaby’
It is also present in ‘Quietism’, where the comfort Stripe derives from hearing her lover type echoes the sing song quality of the poem, with its idiosyncratic and unforced rhymes and rhythms:
These once busy streets
Footsteps are cushioned
In the ginnel of dust
Where the pink reflected halogen glow
Is the tone of my cheeks
Just half an hour ago’
‘Wharfedale’ and ‘Devil’s Gateway’ are perhaps the best poems of the collection, both dealing with a rummaging of the past. In the first, Stripe observes the changes to her Nan’s house since she’s left for a nursing home and her father’s use of the garden as a ‘chainsaw boutique’. It’s moving in the same way that looking at old photographs is moving: Stripe superimposes her memories on the present in a way that reminds the reader of the ephemerality of things, of the ease with which ‘the wet grass turns silver’.
‘Devil’s Gateway’ is a different kettle detailing the narrator rustling through ancient correspondence that belonged to a certain Adam and Eve. The idea that she is breaking and entering into their privacy, both physically and emotionally is wonderfully conveyed:
‘I open the latch,
Bury my hands
Inside the envelopes’
Unlike ‘Whaferdale’, however, Stripe trumps the expected sentimentalism with casual revelations.
Whilst the title of Adelle Stripe’s collection ‘Cigarettes in bed’ doesn’t own any of the poems, what it stands for: moments of slightly unhealthy, slightly dirty, slightly euphoric, slightly indulgent reflections, is not a bad summary for her pamphlet. It’s a collection of ‘slightly’: hovering between banality and exception.