In Suitcase, one of the latest pamphlets published by independent publishing press 4Word, Kevin Reid takes us on a number of engaging and emotional journeys.
With a keen eye for detail and an acerbic wit, Reid shares his losses, loves and pet hates alongside his grief, feelings of isolation and beguiling transitory melancholy as he struggles to belong in a variety of elsewheres.
The opening poem sets the tone for the rest of the pamphlet. From the off, we sense a poet who’s not at home when he’s physically at home, a poet looking for other places to take his suitcase, which is both a suitcase full of belongings and a metaphor for what he carries on his travels – the weight of experience, expectation and circumstance, mistakes and little victories.
In Small Town, “an open mind is an affliction…drawing and painting don’t lead to real jobs…sex is a sin before marriage (and) wrong between men”. By showing us his small town, Reid is telling us why he must escape it. But there’s also a huge affection for who and what is left behind. In his mournful and moving anthem to grief, The Brightest Song My Arms Have Ever Held, Reid imagines “Aegean sunsets over the isle of Arran” and eating food with Glaswegians, as if to close the psychological chasm between where he is physically and where he is psychologically and emotionally. In a stunning last stanza, Reid closes the distance between himself and a loved one.
Instead – I remove the years
between adult and child
between now and you singing
Bird on the wire
In Trees, Reid gives his mother the characteristics of certain trees to highlight her position of strength and support in his life. She’s a rowan after his first anxiety attack, but has a dogwood voice when she finds his drugs in her house. Her love and affectionate hugs are “redbud and eucalyptus” and her laugh is “maple”. While this extended metaphor of Mother as tree threads through the poem until his mother’s death, it’s when she’s “…the elm on the phone when I called you to break the news of my divorce” where the metaphor is at its most striking. It’s a love that is solid and sturdy when the poet needs it most.
While living in Greece, Reid occasionally encounters ludicrous machismo, which he describes with both affection and irritation. This is illustrated during a visit to his local butcher.
On an oak chopping block
two chicken fillets
dusted with spice
That will fill your balls says Christos.
Reid’s humorous treatment of Greek masculinity comes to the fore again in Declares where he’s a 21st century Minotaur. A male chauvinist (and then some), Reid’s Minotaur possesses seemingly entrenched views about how women should behave.
doesn’t like his woman’s body art/ claims tattoos are best on men
The final stanza illustrates that Reid is making a wider point about Greek men who “bellow with bull-headed bravado/about flirts on Facebook”. One could argue the poet emasculates the 21st century Minotaur here, turning this beast into nothing more than a vain and needy individual who pines for attention on social media.
A sense of homesickness weaves through the pamphlet and is particularly poignant in That Summer in Horsham. While Reid is tender here, grateful to be given “a place at your table/your meals with family and friends”, the poet also bravely shares his own feelings of ambivalence despite the hospitality. Like elsewhere in the pamphlet, Reid is always questioning if he belongs wherever he ends up.
But today I feel unsociable
Like a thorn or a thistle,
like a Scottish winter.
Suitcase skilfully explores the complications of living in places that never quite feel like home, but where home never feels quite right either. The pamphlet is laced with sadness and pathos, flavoured with a mischievous humour that pokes fun and rips into notions and manifestations of masculinity. Suitcase is for the homesick and the lovesick, from a poet always grieving for the loved ones and things he has left behind when he picks up his suitcase, whether he’s coming or going, whether he’s here or there.
By Mark Connors, Poetry Correspondent
Suitcase by Kevin Reid is published by 4Word and available to buy now.