Review of the reads – February 2024

Words by:
Yusef Sayed
Featured in:
February 2024

Yusef Sayed’s review of the reads.

Louth Then and Now by Sue Fair, Debbie Royle and Ruth Gatenby
Published by Louth Museum, price £20. Email for availability:

Produced by Louth Museum, this new book offers archival photos and postcard scenes, largely drawn from the museum’s collection, of the town’s shops and pubs, presented alongside more contemporary pictures of the same buildings.

Starting from one of the most famous shopfronts in the town, and what was one of the oldest established independent family-run department stores in the country – the former Eve & Ranshaw – and the oldest pub, Ye Old Whyte Swanne, we are given an overview of Louth’s commerce through the years.

Brief accompanying captions explain some of the key historical facts about each location, the names of proprietors, individuals posing for the camera and where possible the specific dates. Also reprinted are receipts and advertisements that add character, with a clear attention to decorative detail in the typesetting and design.

Those not already familiar with Louth may wish to refer to a map as they go, but even the simplest details evoke a busy town life from a century ago, with different trades, smartly dressed staff, and each shopfront distinctively signed and arranged with goods. Not least the upside-down sign of Platt’s (now The Foot Doctor), which is said to have drawn customers and boosted trade. There is no mystery as to some of the products on offer: the exteriors of both Richardson’s coach builders and Plumpton’s poultry shop are shown covered with their offerings.

It is dispiriting to see many of these shops giving way to anonymous homes, or chain stores. An old photo of Kate Colbeck’s hat shop shows the effects of deterioration from the glass negative from which it was printed. By contrast, it is the building itself today that shows disrepair. But while the town has lost names like Eve & Ranshaw in the recent past, it is still home to a range of quality independent businesses. And so many of the buildings seen here in sepia and monochrome are nevertheless still standing.

The tour ends back at Louth Museum, where more ephemera, information and many artefacts relating to the town are available to those curious to learn more.

Sucker Punch by Jade King
Published by Broken Sleep Books, price £8.99

In this debut collection of poems by University of Lincoln graduate jade king, romantic, familial and clinical relationships are all examined in stark lines and succinct verse structures.

A sense of disorientation and tension runs through the entire collection: between vulnerability and guardedness; intimacy and distance. Windows might offer an opening, but telephones and ‘a series of masks’ keep us at a remove. Likewise king juxtaposes a fuchsia with quicksand, a pillow and a pair of scissors.

A sucker punch is defined as a quick, surprise hit and king’s best phrases and images come at the reader just so: ‘Now, the lilies are turning / a bruisish blue’, she writes in ‘Tidewater’, an inspired invention of colour and sound. There are other, repeated jabs: compare the ballerina’s ‘pirouettes traced in gunpowder’ and the wolves ‘Tied / by the same leash, / they drag one another / in circles’.

The poems are imbued with unease – ‘all noise sounds like conflict’, king writes in ‘Ambush’. In ‘Classified’ she describes a girl for whom ‘sorry usually means hello’. ‘Children Should Be Seen & Never Heard’ introduces a ‘cinnamon girl’ who ‘finds being heard / more embarrassing / than her naked body’.

Sex is typically escapist, or fraught. Birth brings with it the anxieties of existence. Men disappoint, whether they be lovers or fathers who ‘pick up children / only to let them down.’

As well as details of immediate physical experience, there is a preoccupation with what is not there. The negative space on the page stands for all manner of forces that trouble the speaker: ‘absence / casts a shadow’; ‘We learn to love / what we know / was once there’. And king writes of being ‘Afraid of heights – not for their falling, / but their miraculous lack.’

Still, there is a pleasure and resolve to be found in words – even words like ‘limerence’, seldom found in verse but so poetic in itself. Between optimism and pessimism, dreams and gritted teeth, king finds her way, and her artistic strengths, through poetry.

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