Sally Flint is a prime example of what, in today’s world, constitutes a poet. Her debut collection, Pieces Of Us, contains a number of poems that have featured in magazines and have fared well in competitions (she was a runner-up in the 2008 Bridport Prize). Her poetry is competent, readable, but not particularly glamorous, subversive or memorable. “The Piano Tuner” begins:
He came at intervals with his leather case
His mothball-scented scarf draped
across the settee’s arm
Seduction is implicit in the poem, though the target of the piano tuner’s lust turns out to be the poet’s mother. The marriage of piano tuning and the female body is skilfully played out:
He dared to tinker with inside places
I wasn’t allowed to touch
But the poem lacks a surprise element. The reader expects something amorous to happen from the very first line, and by the poem’s conclusion the reader is served exactly what they expected. Compare the above with Emily Berry seducing her biographer in the closing lines of “Our Love Could Spoil Dinner”:
…that day my mouth felt wetter
than usual. I asked my biographer to check. He used
his tongue. “This may affect the results,” he said.
Though seduction is always on the cards in Emily Berry’s poem, the playful manner in which it is achieved and handed over elevate the poem above being just a simple tale of a conquest into a humorous spin on (sexual) power politics. Quite why Emily Berry needs a biographer as the second best British female poet with the surname Berry (Liz Berry take a bow) is another point.
Elsewhere, Sally Flint’s most accomplished poem is “One Of Us Had Already Tipped The Waiters” (David Harsent gave it a runners-up medal in the 2008 Bridport Prize). The poem consists of a restaurant scene where two almost-strangers end up sitting with each other. The results are predictable and a piano is once again struck as a metaphor. However it is wonderfully well-written, with lines like:
Over glasses of Grappa I remember the dark
fabric of your jacket complemented
my dress, your arms, like matching belts,
coming around the curve of my waist
These work on a number of visual levels, particularly the arms as belts and the motion they are given by the verb “coming”. Restaurant scenes tend to lend themselves well to poetry; a slightly more surreal post-restaurant scene is relayed by Luke Kennard in his “The Sunken Diner”:
We kick over to a booth, its fleshy seats ripped.
“Over here Don broke up with Emily for the second time
in 1994. They were eating omelettes with dry bread”
These details are shared during a diving expedition, the words are not noticeably better or more exciting than Sally Flint’s – their quality lies in the originality of the concept. How many poems are there about a couple dining in a restaurant? How many poems are there about diving to an abandoned restaurant?
Therein, at least for Sally Flint, lies the quandary. Witty, clever and innovative poets like Emily Berry and Luke Kennard sit in a category slightly higher-up than her in the poetry food chain: they win bigger prizes, and (I would imagine) they sell more books. If Sally wants to be more than just the typical poet she must add another dimension to her poetry. She needs to find another layer. This first collection has a great deal of potential and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see her develop into a brighter star – she just needs to find the right muse.
Charlie Baylis lives and works in Nottingham. He reviews poetry for Stride, which is where his best poetry is published. He also reviews poetry and fiction for Neon. His own creative writing has appeared in a number of publications, including: Stride, Litro , Ink, Sweat And Tears, The Cadaverine, Boston Poetry, and Agave. Charlie has been shortlisted for the Bridport (UK) and Pushcart prizes (US). He spends his spare time completely adrift of reality.