A Dock is Not a Solid Thing by Sarah Hymas, Review #5

-Reviewed by Claire Trévien


First things first, this is a gorgeous object, bound only by see-through ribbons which wrap around each page, occasionally overlapping over lines of poetry. It holds together while feeling precious, a pamphlet to open with care, each turned page a wonder. Sarah Hymas compares it to a Jacob’s Ladder and there is definitely that kind of play at work here.


Part of me feels saddened when the production quality of pamphlets is too slick, mimicking as much as they can the ‘grail’ of the collection. It’s a bit like forcing yourself into a suit when you have a whole wardrobe at your disposal. I’m not putting down the many pamphlet publishers that create beautiful pamphlets, keep going on! And it makes economic sense to do so, most bookshops will only accept pamphlets with a spine. Only, I do especially appreciate it when a pamphlet comes along where the form reflects the content, where the theme is tightly bound, when everything from top to bottom has been considered when being crafted. I love the ephemerality of it too, only 30 of these pamphlets have been made: a not so solid thing in every sense then.

The seven poems themselves mostly deal with maritime industry and the precariousness of any structure based on the sea. In ‘St George’s Quay’, even the sky is pulled along with the high tide. The poems worry at the need to measure and make solid this world, ‘To look for something / worth inking on paper’ (from ‘Survey, 1799’). Anchorage, the vein of the pamphlet, is employed particularly effectively in ‘Following Waterlight’ where

fixes a place, even though it cannot
be grasped

There are some predictable beats here, the keeper is ‘tethered to land / by his twelve children’, the planks groan, and the more narrative sections of ‘A Dock is Not a Solid Thing’ weigh it down. Yet each of these complaints have their own retort: the keeper’s family ‘feed the stormbound’, the ‘planks speak a different tenor to every man’, while plain narration gives the illusion of solidity to a place where ‘Everything of importance after that was shackled / to water’.

Sarah Hymas’ work first came to my attention, when her pamphlet Lune was shortlisted (and then became runner-up) in the 2013 Saboteur Awards. Since then she has continued to create limited-edition hand-crafted pamphlets of this kind where the quality of the writing matches the thoughtful design. This is no exception.

This December, I have given myself the task of reviewing one pamphlet a day to raise money for next year’s Saboteur Awards. You can help by donating, or sharing the link using the hashtag #pamphletparty. I am not sure how this month is going to go, some pamphlets will be easier than others. I have given myself the aim of writing at least 300 words for each, a lower word-count than the usual reviews on Sabotage, in the hopes of making it more manageable! Here’s a linkto the previously published reviews in this project!