Alice Tarbuck’s first pamphlet collection of poetry, Grid, challenges her collection’s title and bends poetry form. In poems of varying lengths, differing tones and metrics, her writing weaves in and out of twenty-first century human nature – exploring time, emotion, people and places. With such mixed themes the collection is difficult to summarise as a whole but rather works more as a sampler of the poet’s voice and concerns.
Tarbuck’s opening poem, “Don’t mistake yourself for Joan of Arc”, gives an insight into her very ‘current’ attitude to content. Playing with poetic techniques in her opening stanza, she focuses on bodily imagery – breath, blood and stomach – addressing the reader and petitioning them as her subject. Not only does the first stanza act as a form of involvement it also gives us an sense of Tarbuck’s idea of time:
inordinately small before a king, to tell the truth of something in the air which
speaks unbidden. Glass in the thumb from a cracked phone screen
blood on the scarlet dancing girl emoji/skin fleck on the flame emoji
that’s the bit they all like best.
We can almost see time passing. With her inclusion of both the fear of monarchical power – a fear that has since been lost in time – and the reference to mobile phones, Tarbuck has moved her poem from one decade in time to another. The entirety of “Don’t mistake yourself for Joan of Arc” uses traditional subjects of poetry, offering them up with a twenty-first century twist.
With such a varied collection like this it is difficult to pinpoint one particular piece that ties the collection together, but “Elvis, Alfred and Barbara Gray*” manages to showcase the poet’s ability to entwine storytelling, popular culture and relationships. This piece refers to a famous photograph of singing legend, Elvis Presley, kissing an unknown woman. Tarbuck decides to go with the unexplored angle of Barbara Gray, the notorious then ‘unknown’ woman, rather than focusing on Elvis. She gives us what might have, should have or may have possibly been Barbara’s own thoughts, following Elvis’ departure after their kiss.
Bad kiss then he’s gone, not even one glance behind, to play a show that you don’t stay to see. Better that way: you don’t buy his records, either, or read about him in the papers.
Corruption of the music industry and the price of fame is no secret but often the victims of fame are the ones left unnoticed and silent. Tarbuck’s poem addresses this through Barbara’s thoughts and gives her a voice. Ordinarily, the public might have proclaimed that women would kill “to be in Barbara’s shoes” but this is simply not the case; Barbara is left underwhelmed, choosing not to pursue Elvis even after his popularity grows. In this poem, Tarbuck hints at underlying issues in the world of ‘fame’ and the victims of fame.
Tarbuck ends her collection with a melancholic piece, “Voil-“, which begins with – arguably – the most powerful statement of the whole collection:
Violet is the colour at the end of the visible spectrum of light between blue and visible ultraviolet. It is the colour’s vanishing point. It is the limited space between daylight and blacklight.
The colour’s strangeness acts as a poignant end to an intensely colourful collection. Just as the colour sits somewhere in the middle of two spectrums, Grid sits somewhere between traditional poetry and a more ‘modern’ outlook. This is not a criticism of Tarbuck’s but praise.
Alice Tarbuck’s Grid is innovative and leads the way for a new breed of generational poets. With her quirky insights and powerful imagery, Tarbuck has produced a collection of note and one that will hopefully be a step towards further successes.