The collection is split into five sections; offering slightly different perspectives and degrees of involvement. Throughout this work one becomes more and more aware of the delight that Ms. Rathbone takes in the meanings and usage of words. It came as no surprise to discover that she had worked for five years as a lexicographer and editorial assistant on the Shorter Oxford Dictionary.
At the bus stop offers snapshots of the minutiae of detail to be observed through her short, punchy poems. Babies in pushchairs are transformed into demanding monarchs in Royal Progress:
on this his
Grief for a dead pet is explained with dignity in Acceptance:
A discarded drink can becomes the object of attention in Highlight:
My favourite from this section is Waiting with another generation which charts our progress as a race from using woad for battle, via make-up to tattooing for decoration:
the epidermis –
painful, but said to be worth it
On the bus is again based on observation and deals with her fellow passengers and those other road users she can see. She accurately reflects on initial reactions and how they change, given thought. Tattooed woman evokes a feeling we must all have shared at some point: the unwelcome person who sits next to us on the bus. Her fellow passengers’ relief at her misfortune is juxtaposed with her own mixed feelings when the woman leaves the bus:
deal with the
shame that erases
any relief I might feel
Overheard on the bus is the shortest section, and its title self-explanatory. It is the reaction of the poet to the reaction of others that works so well. We recognise her situation and understand the snippets of conversation, using them to judge others – often unfairly – from these isolated fragments. The local detail – the Oxford Mail in Oh no – makes the situation at once mundane and comforting.
The two final sections – A view from the bus and Bus journeys offer fragments of thought and observation once again. Here, however, it is the language, rather than the situations that work particularly well. The image created in Day trip to Brighton of small-minded morality is stunning:
darting from the girl’s condition
to the grubby unringed finger
allows a grim smile of satisfaction.
One can’t help smiling at the summer evening picture created by three young girls on night out in town:
as fast as their heels
can carry them.
Like all the best poetry this collection captures detail and transforms it into significance. Gillian Rathbone is a wordsmith of great skills; the best of which is her ability to know whether a poem is finished after four lines, or needs to fill the page. Buy it, dip into it, smile and enjoy. Read it on the bus!