Swimming with Endorphins by Fran Isherwood

– Reviewed by Emma Lee

The title of Swimming With Endorphins suggests that these will be light-hearted, punning poems that are fun to read. That’s what they are: a wry look at a common observation, ideas toyed with and explored for their humour. “Garden As Circus” watches a blackbird collecting berries

balancing, fluttering, almost falling off fragile
branch that flutters in its turn, intermittently
tickling the washing line. I stare and silently
dare the blackbird (let’s call him Cedric) to tightrope-walk
along the washing line. Alas, he refuses.
Chicken. Not as if it would matter if he fell.
No skin off his beak.

I’m not sure why the poet goes to the trouble of naming the blackbird and then doesn’t use the name again; I thought I might meet Cedric again later in the collection, but he doesn’t reappear. The poem’s fun to read aloud, although once you get the punchline, it doesn’t bear much re-reading. “Beehive Hairdo” takes its play on words a step further, imagining a bee making its home in a woman’s hair

The bee that lived in her hair flew in and out of her ears,
rampaging round her ringlets, whispering little thinglets:
‘Bee more productive!’ it lisped. ‘Bee less grumpy!’ it hissed
‘Bee more sober!’ it slurred (the hypocrite was pissed).
‘Bee a good mother! Bee a less selfish lover!
Bee a good daughter! Do what you ought a!
Bee more efficient! Bee self-sufficient!’
On and on it went till she was spent.
She realized she could not care less about this buzzy-ness.
It wasn’t the bee all and end all, after all.
‘Oh! Buzz off!’ she said, as she flattened it.

This would be fun performed or heard performed. Fran Isherwood turns her eye to performers too, in a poem about Eurovision. After the excitement of travel, the novelty of the stadium show,

’Le Royaume-Uni: Nul point’.
‘Velika Britanija : Nul point’ ‘Den brittiska: No points.’ At the backstage party our duo, besieged by paparazzi, battle past, haunted, to leave. I phone home and am told that my eight year old son has been weeping.

Midnight: It only goes dark for a couple of hours. Forgetting the zeros by zeroing in on the free bar, we conga with TV crews and presenters around an indoor fountain then drink fizzy wine at outside tables till it stays light, at about seven in the morning.

2 days after: At the airport, we show internet cafe printouts of the deluge of vile bile upchucked by the British press, to the band’s managers. Chuckling, they say it is the next best thing to winning.

The band emerge with their reputation unsullied by a win in a naff competition and their career revived, and readers are left to imagine what the songwriter’s reaction was.

A pamphlet doesn’t always give space to show a poet’s full range. However, I wanted an occasional change of tone: one or two poems with a serious note and depth. Swimming with Endorphins is fun and carries a sense that these were performed, written down and performed again. While they capture the delight of performance, they flutter in the breeze without significant depth to anchor them.