Speed Dating Four Poetry Pamphlets: Stone, Quintavalle, Dunthorne, De Vries

Today I am going to be speed dating four pamphlets from four different presses. I will be superficially picking at physiques, point out their best attribute and let you know which one is best value for money. I hope this glimpse into these pamphlets will tempt you into purchasing one (or more) of them and so support the future of British poetry (no pressure).

Value for Money

Jon Stone, SCARE-Crows (HappenStance, 2010) – 20 poems, £4

Rufo Quintavalle, Make Nothing Happen (Oystercatcher Press, 2009) – 21 poems, £4

Joe Dunthorne, Faber New Poets 5 (Faber and Faber, 2010) – 15 poems, £3.50

Ellen De Vries, Girl in the Air (Pighog 2007) – 16 poems, £6

Verdict: As far as price to poem ratio goes, Quintavalle is the clear winner with Stone breathing heavily down his neck. De Vries is the clear loser with each of her poems costing £0.375 compared to Quintavalle’s £0.19047619 poems.

Hey good looking!

Stone: The cover is in the usual sparse style of HappenStance, the few variations come in terms of cover colour and illustration. In this case, the cover is beige with the gangly drawing of a man dominated by an overlarge head. As with other HappenStance pamphlets, it’s easy on the eye and could fit into a moderately small clutch should you be so inclined. It’s like builder’s tea, predictable yet satisfying.

Quintavalle: This pamphlet also comes in the usual style favoured by Oystercatcher Press. The picture here is of a blowfish on patterned carpet. The paper is satisfyingly smooth compared to the rougher paper of Stone’s pamphlet, but I’m just nitpicking, at least Stone was allowed a biography. Of the four, it’s the least impressive looking, a bit like Monopoly money.

Joe Dunthorne: There’s something satisfying about the bold colours of the Faber New Poets series. It’s a good-looking pamphlet with its fireman red and willful simplicity. You’d like to get caught reading it on a tube. The cover is satisfyingly stiff, almost enough to make you forget the staples on the side.

De Vries: The most expensive of the four but also the only one with its own unique design aesthetic. The title is too pale for my liking and I’m not sure I like the drawing of the falling mouse but I admire the effort gone into fully illustrating the pamphlet – that’s got to make a poet feel good.

Verdict: Whilst I am most attracted to Dunthorne’s pamphlet I think De Vries is the clear winner here. Her pamphlet’s design both inside and out makes it a unique work of art. In comparison, the other pamphlets feel like factory products.

Under the hood (stand-out poem)

Stone: There’s plenty to choose from with the chewingly shamanic ‘Jake Root’ and the cringingly amusing ‘Bullshit-Related Injuries in the A & E’. My favourite, however, is ‘Bedhair’, Stone’s reworking of Yosano Akiko’s tankas. They’re raw like a fresh graze, sexy, and smell strongly of booze.

Quintavalle: The standout for me is ‘Nowhere Special’ for managing to make the act of doing nothing so tense. The tightly packed words are like a coil waiting to take your eye out. It sums up to me perfectly the message of Quintavalle’s pamphlet and its deliberate contradiction of Auden’s utterance ‘Poetry makes nothing happen’.

Dunthorne: I am hesitant here between picking a poem that entertained me, and Dunthorne’s more serious material. There’s plenty of the former in this collection with ‘Future Dating’, ‘Sestina for My Friends’ and the grimly wonderful ‘The Actual Queen’. I think I’ll have to pick ‘Cave Dive’ however for its skilled personal exploration of time: ‘His slow mind thinks time / is just another surface’.

De Vries: Again, it is hard to choose just one, but I found her closing poem ‘Arabic’ particularly beautiful with its sensual, organic description of a ‘language / wet with seeds’.

Verdict: You can’t make me choose my favourite child, but if I could only pick two on a desert island they would probably be Stone and Dunthorne’s pamphlets. Why? Because their poems are surprisingly eatable and know how to make me laugh. That being said, each of these four debut pamphlets have an impressive voice worth hunting down.

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