– Reviewed by Pat Edwards –
Susannah Dickey’s I had some very slight concerns is a simple bright orange pamphlet with just seven poems inside. We are given a few lines about Susannah Dickey on the back cover, and that’s it. It’s a good job I was lucky enough to hear her read at the Verve Poetry Festival in Birmingham earlier this year; she won the festival competition, and I sat up and took notice from that moment onward.
Everything about this pamphlet shouts that this poetry is fresh and different, with no gimmicks. The writing is simply unlike anything else I have ever read. Opening with the wonderfully titled ‘It’s easy to think someone’s beautiful once they are dead’, Dickey introduces us to a surreal dating game that could be set in the publishing world, where “mutual misinterpretation” abounds. Dickey continues with a clever and disturbing look at an obsession with apologising, taking us through a complex web of unnecessary and increasingly neurotic reasons for saying sorry. In the poem she apologises “for wasting so much of our time together on apologies, just in case” and convinces the reader that spiralling self-doubt and deprecation is no lesson to teach the young.
In ‘Is it selfish to share your problems with people you don’t know’, I am confronted with my own phobia of moths, which Dickey uses as a striking metaphor for myriad personal problems people seem so willing to share with all and sundry. Since I find moths so abhorrent it is very easy for me to relate to her grotesque descriptions of them, and to feel the visceral threat “that something finger-length might crawl inside me and make its home in my crevices.” Dickey incisively plays with the horror of exposing our fragilities and finding that they have such a hold over us. In ‘Xenomelia’, the fears Dickey reveals are dismissed by a dead man as the “kind of thing” that “doesn’t bother” him any more. The point is, of course, that it is only in death that we truly escape the angst and stress that we encounter every day. The poem twists towards the end when we find that the girl addressing the dead man is actually having “rhythmic and solipsistic” sex with him, as if things couldn’t get any worse!
If our worst woes are brought on by failed relationships, ‘Milk’ is a rich painting of just how damaging and lingering the pain of loss can be, and how it can determinedly permeate everything if we let it. Loss, and the tendency to be self-indulgent in the feelings it evokes, are explored in the next poem, to the extent that the subject “would lie in the dark and think about the future deaths of loved ones, just to see if (she) could cry.” We are taken into a world of replacement body parts and made to wonder whether something of the original owner, of say a heart, still inhabits it after transplant.
And so to the closing poem, where the speaker finds a faltering peace. Dickey uses the idea that “layers of thin wood might be stronger” as a means of exploring our fragility, but she acknowledges that even this theory is flawed. She speaks of “all my old, useless layers in little splintered heaps of sawdust on the floor for you have unwound me, and I am weaker now, like stripped bark, but stronger now, because you hold me up.”
The understatement in the title is torn apart by the raw exposure of human feelings in the pace and drive of these poems. Dickey dares to get right under the skin and creates imagined places that really are the stuff of darkest nightmares. Despite the absurdity and surrealism of these poems, it is possible to believe in their geography and to recognise places we have all visited at some point. I love this debut pamphlet, and am left wanting more. Susannah Dickey clearly has a talent for hauntingly different language that both moves and resonates.