After William Letfordâs Edinburgh International Book Festival reading, which he shared with Cape poet Sean Borodale, one poem dominated the Q&A. âThe light and dark of Adeonaâ describes an encounter between a young man and his somewhat younger â âyoung for her age,â the poem notes â female roommate.
At breakfast, her arms and legs
were crossed with shallow cuts. I asked
if she had fallen, this gave her the chance
to say yes. So I watch her more closely. Not out of
worry, or pity, out of interest. She is a person
of course, but she is also a story.
The audience seemed disturbed by the poemâs stance, with all the questioners taking for granted that the speaker was Letford himself. Didnât you do anything about this? someone asked. One woman wanted to know if the girl Letford describes had seen this poem, and suggested very firmly that he send it to her. âIâm not sure about using people in poems this way,â another audience member mused. âIs it allowed?â While the audience tried to wrap their heads around the poemâs conundrum, Letford smiled, and gave very little away.
This is the great strength of âBevel,â one of the most idiosyncratic first collections you could hope to find: each poem raises more questions than it answers. So many of the pieces concern a mysterious something, usually referred to as âitâ: âWit is itâ offers a series of possible answers â âItâs aboot perspective, son, where eh yi standing / Wit eh yi lookin itâ â but the question is conspicuously missing. In âOutside the cityâ, âthe grass is full of it / the trees are alive with itâ, but what exactly this âitâ is, we never discover. The collection is peopled by mysterious women, who only ever appear in fragments. âI suspect that she had tasted asparagus beforeâ; âshe has the outlines of stars tattooed onto her spineâ; âyou know, I had the idea that she had lived.â But the collection also wears a wry smile, recording funny as well as poignant moments Letford has observed. âItâs aboot the labourâ captures the awkwardness many poets feel about discussing their work with the uninitiated â âwidayyemean / dizthatmeanyegetmoneyfurritâ â while âThurs hunners a birds oan the roofsâ, a poem Letford favours at readings, revels in playing with sound. âNut a look / nut a nut plod on then mouldy breed heed woop woop look it that / fingle foogle boogalooâ. Perhaps unsurprisingly, by far the best poems in this collection are those in which Letford allows his day-to-day work as a roofer to inform the message. These roof poems convey something way above and beyond their images of hard manual labour. From his rooftop perch, William Letford offers us a brand new and often startling perspective on the everyday world we all too often take for granted.
youâll need your back to make your money