Friday, 11 December 2015

The Great Vowel Shift - Pamphlet

The Great Vowel Shift is a pamphlet by Robin Houghton (Telltale Press). I had the pleasure of meeting Robin at the Poetry book Fair in September. (I have followed her blog for a while). She signed a copy of her pamphlet for me and gave me some postcards, each one featuring a poem by different poets published by Telltale Press.

This is a collection of poems about things lost. I gave this pamphlet a second reading as I first read it some while ago and needed to refresh myself with the poems.Sometimes when reading poems you think you know what it is trying to say. However, from comments I've received from tutors about some of my poems I realise that people often get something different from the poems than you intended. I don't think it really matters because like writing, you come at reading from your own experiences too. It does make me reluctant to speculate sometimes, though, on what other poets write, if it isn't immediately obvious. The Last is one of those. I've read it a few times now, and while I think I know, I'm not 100% sure. Maybe I've read my own things into it but it is something that is not talked about 'Each one appeared/in my diary, in code. My mother wouldn't explain/I couldn't ask.' Whatever, it means something to me just from the lines I have quoted!

I enjoyed Geography Lesson, and the idea that 'with just one slip thousands of caves/and seabirds would be lost' (tracing the coastline).  East from Seahouses was another I particularly liked with its descriptions, from 'pulling in the Harry Potter crowd' to the list of birds found on the Farnes. I loved the fact that the narrator while on the boat to the island was longing for the 'dry side of the window' (great description) in The Anchor pub.

Still here resonates with me. I have a bit of a thing for the lost rivers of London. While researching my family tree I discovered my paternal great grandfather and his family lived in Bermondsey where once the Neckinger River ran into the Thames. All around were leather works, tanning factories, all gone now, yet the river is still underneath the streets. I have seen photos of the tiny cottages that were part of Neckinger Street where they lived (care of the local history archive close to where Charles Dickens' father was in prison). We forget that history is right under our feet and this poem was close to my heart with its reminders of 'Roman hoes and mandibles' cast aside - everyday life of a past, a past that made us.

Robin kindly adds a note at the back of the booklet about the title poem, The Great Vowel Shift. This was very helpful and informative explaining how the English language changed. No wonder our language is so complicated! The poem shows the strangeness of using the new sounds for the first time - cleverly done.

The penultimate poem in the collection is When my sister is old, a poem looking forward to a time of looking back (if that makes sense!) when you see what has gone, the things you will remember, the reminiscing that comes as you age. Clever and rather sad.

This is a nice short collection with poems that make you think, fragments of life lived through and now gone.


  1. Heather, thanks so much for your lovely sensitive review and kind words. I'm so glad you enjoyed the pamphlet. Robin x

  2. You're welcome. Sorry it took me so long to get to it!