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by Jo Colley

The difficulty I have in finding the right words to describe these poems arises, ironically, from the fact that they strike such a familiar chord in my mind. As luck would have it, I opened the book at random and found Deliverance, a summing-up of a relationship I recognised only too well:

"Sick of it, we meet at the river

Like old generals making a deal

looking to save face."

What I felt, almost immediately, was that it would be hard to be objective about what, I was staggered to discover, is Jo Colley's first published collection. I could see the attraction of a poem like this for a disillusioned middle-aged woman, but what about the rest of the world?

It wasn't the first time my children have surprised me. "What do you think of this poem?" I began tentatively, proffering the book to my younger daughter. "Oh, yeah, that one." She proceeded to recite the first verse of Boyfriend off by heart. (The book had been in the house for all of two days, and she had read it from cover to cover.)

So I think it's safe to pronounce this a work of potentially wide appeal and considerable quality. It was, of course, the cover that attracted my daughter, with its monochrome photograph of a semi-nude Barbie and Action Man sitting on a rock. I'm not sure that the symbolism was as obvious to her as it was to me, but that's immaterial. She was impressed with it, and so was I.

These are not meandering, obscure poems. They get to the point quickly and effectively. The titles, unusually enough, offer a flavour of the poet's style and intentions. It's hard to imagine a more picturesque opening than Tracy Emin's Knickers. Metaphor, throughout, is drawn from 21st-century life, and especially from the media:

"Not Disney, but Dali...

The soundtrack's Stockhausen"

Yet there are subtle internal variations, both in form and subject matter: the absence of punctuation in places, the shift in focus from partner to children to parent. And overall, the inevitable comparisons with Wendy Cope only reflect well on this less celebrated poet. It's fitting, too, that the final poem, Shelf Life, should be a comment on the reader/writer relationship, something that's often given me pause for thought.

It seems a shame that Jo Colley's work had to be limited to publication in pamphlet form. The thinner a book's spine, the easier it is to lose it on a shelf. This is not some economy product, either; the printing and artwork are first-rate (the bright pink endpapers are a stroke of genius). Unlike so many volumes of poetry, the content doesn't need to be stretched, but almost bursts out from between the covers. I hope her next collection will have a few more pages.


ISBN 1 904409 01 6
Published by Vane Women Press, 2002
36pp, paperback
Retail price 4

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Review by Deborah Fisher