Review of David Clarke's 'Scare Stories' at poetryschool.com

Posted on 8 July 2017

David Clarke's pamphlet, Gaud (Flarestack), won the Michael Marks Award in 2013. His first full collection of poetry, Arc, was published by Nine Arches Press in 2016 and was longlisted for the Polari First Book PrizeIn reviewing his new pamphlet Scare Stories from V. Press for The Poetry School, I was interested in discovering why he chose this format, rather than a second collection. 

Scare Stories by David Clarke

'Scare Stories' by David Clarke

Scare Stories is a sequence of 25 poems set in, as Clarke puts it: ‘possible near futures or versions of the present’. I can see why he chose to publish in pamphlet form. Though imaginative and exaggerated to some degree, the poems have a bearing on our immediate circumstances that it's valuable to highlight. They should be read now.

Here's an extract from my review for The Poetry School:

 "What is the function of rhyme in poetry? There are many: to set up a recognisable pattern; build a sense of expectancy or suspense; link words and thoughts together to stress their connections or disparity; to make a poem more memorable; to fulfil the reader’s desire for satisfaction when the sounds snap shut. All of these senses are at play in the pamphlet.

But rhyme is more than just a blueprint for how to construct each poem aurally line-by-line, stanza-by-stanza. When sustained for this length of sequence, the rhyme scheme also works on a larger scale. Note that word ‘scheme’. A system. A plan. A method. For a rhyme to exist, there has to be an inciting sound that’s followed up. There has to be cause and effect. It creates a sense of forward momentum. It tells us there’s an order to how things happen.

What is the best way to respond to the current disorder? With disordered writing? Or by offsetting it against a backdrop of order? By doing the latter, Clarke makes the additional point that order/harmony is possible. It also makes us think about the sense of (false) security on offer in established and maintained schemes. Plus we all know when a rhyming word is there ‘just to make up the numbers’: badly handled rhyme embodies complacency. What appears set and settled has been evidently engineered, and can be deconstructed.  

On top of this, the line end becomes supremely important. Will the rhyme be fulfilled or subverted? How well will it be fulfilled? Combined with the forward momentum of the rhythm driving the lines, and the frequent use of enjambement, the line end becomes a precipice that lines tumble over creating a sense of free-fall. It becomes a knife edge, which reflects the current state of affairs dispiritingly well, aptly summarised in this quote from the bleakly appropriate film ‘Apocalypse Now’:

 “I watched a snail crawl along the edge of a straight razor. That’s my dream; that’s my nightmare. Crawling, slithering, along the edge of a straight razor… and surviving.” 

 To read the full review, visit poetryschool.com