Review - Three Red Ceilings titles

Alan Baker

"Poets" by Vik Shirley

"Weather Poems" by Wayne Clements

"A crocodile, our of nowhere" by James Roome

Vik Shirley is a writer to watch; she's doing some intriguing and adventurous work with prose-poetry, and her collection "The Continuing Closure of the Blue Door" from HVTN Press is definitely worth checking out. "Poets" is very funny, which is not something one could say about many books of poetry. Each page has a single sentence, sometimes half a sentence, about the sex lives of poets:

          Poets considering having sex with other poets
          based on their excellent word choices

The pieces made me laugh out loud. They are, of course, about more than their ostensible subject. The desperation of poets in an age of social media and self-promotion, the jockeying for position inherent in any in-group (which is what poets are), the envy and feelings of neglect common to creative types, all of these things are implied. I don't want to quote much as it would pre-empt the reader's experience of the book; I'd just recommend you read it.

Wayne Clements presents us with a series of "Weather Poems", each one dated. The poems use the language of weather forecasting to create a repetitive, almost-chant which is hypnotic and strangely affecting:

          Weather Poem, 10th January

          this evening
          this will remain
          tonight will remain
          and evening
          and tonight
          tonight and evening
          and will remain
          tonight will remain
          this evening - this

The words are well-chosen and take on a rhythmical and musical quality. As the series progresses, the pieces seem to be reflecting the state of mind of the speaker, expressing unease (who isn't uneasy about climate and weather now?) and ending on an unexpected note of optimism. One of the poems is a moving elegy for Sean Bonney, expressed in the simplest language, but taking weight from cumulative nature of the rest of the series.

The pamphlet from James Roome is the longest of these three, and is a series of prose poems arranged in a narrow columns interspersed with occasional conventionally-laid out poems. The pieces are all mini-narratives, surreal and entertaining, but infused with a sense of anxiety. The poems can be funny and horrific at the same time. "The arsonist" begins as an easy-going, humorous narrative:

              Two days before the festival,
          the arsonist placed all of his
          equipment in a neat row
          on the windowsill.

The arsonist "sewed the fireproof material to the skin of his hands". This metaphor is then added to in a more and more lurid fashion, till we get:

          he... rubbed his head against the tarmac
          until his scalp hung from his skull.
          A blooody mess. In this way he became
          the match.

Roome is taking this kind of whimsical conceit and seeing how far he can go with it. This is entertaining poetry with a hard edge.

The Irish critic Billy Mills wrote recently about his dread of "the full collection" which, as he pointed out, often seems to be padded out to make the page-count. Red Ceilings is doing an invaluable job in presenting poetry to its best advantage, offering the reader short but high-quality publications which, certainly in the case of these three, are a pleasure to read.


Copyright © Alan Baker, 2022.