Review: “They Used To Dance On Saturday Nights” by Gillian Devereux

They Used To Dance On Saturday Nights

There’s a pleasing structure to the arrangement of poems in Gillian Devereux’s chapbook They Used To Dance On Saturday Nights. The collection–published by Aforementioned Productions–kicks off with a piece entitled “The Act Of Ignition”, a firey spark of a poem that tells us how “…a single cell / can incite a riot“, before ending with the startling lines “The future holds a hundred deaths, / a thousand different ways to burn.

After that, in a series of three different but thematically-linked poems, we are introduced to a headless girl, an armless girl, and the saddest girl in the world. In these pieces Devereux presents a kind of alternative circus sideshow, with the three women in question imagined variously as the focus of a crowd, as an exhibition, and as a bird inside a cage. Indeed thereafter the collection appears to run away and join the circus, with poems such as “At The Fortune Teller’s Booth” and “Requiem For A Sideshow Attraction”. When it finally comes time for the show to end, it does so with an appropriately long procession of a poem entitled “Lester Dowdy’s Carnival”.

So the collection is admirably well thought-out, but what of the poems themselves? Devereux’s choice of imagery has a rich, arresting quality to it, even while the language remains that of the everyday. No complex or overwrought vocabulary is to be found here, and yet there is a complexity to the way in which Devereux writes. Take this extract from “Mermaids And Other Marvels Of The Sea”:

It’s a simple ensemble: some tinsel and silk,
seashells crafted from tin and diamond paste.
Imagine the azure clarity of the purest ocean
water. Now muddy that water with sweat
and dust. Imagine the clean bite of sea air.

Though the carnival which the collection presents is vivid and wild and entertaining the poems themselves are steeped in a kind of pervading sadness–tragic when juxtaposed with the panopoly of fortune tellers and dancing bears. The design of the chapbook is fairly standard, but is supplemented by a beautiful cover photograph that accentuates the underlying sadness of the collection. The feet that dangle down beside the title seem to speak of lost opportunity, a night out gone wrong.

They Used To Dance On Saturday Nights paints an intriguing portrait of faded grandeur and decayed excitement. It is brief, bright and thoroughly readable. The chapbook is available from Aforementioned Productions at aforementionedproductions.com.

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Christopher Frost is a writer from the North of England.