One of the joys of my occasional work as an editor is coming across something wonderful that I most likely would otherwise have missed. This was the case with Mark Edwards’s beguiling work CLEAROUT SALE. I know nothing of Scotland, (I’ve never so much as set foot in the place), and if you’d asked me to read a book of poems and stories set among the denizens of Aberdeen my reaction would have been ‘No, thank you.’ But as an editor I read whatever comes my way that looks promising, without too much regard to my personal prejudices, I hope. And as soon as I began to read this I began to love it.
Mark Edwards writes in the language of Aberdeen – lilting, ironic, obscene, hilarious – but you don’t have to know Aberdeen to know what he’s talking about. His poetry is stark, beautiful, sometimes deliciously funny, as in the poet’s mantra yer all shite, and sometimes plaintive and touching, as in the delicate ghost. With a few sparse words he can conjure up a world, a state of mind, a human soul in all its complexity.
had he lived
she would’ve called him John
a name like a blank canvas
leaving him free to weave his own thread
through the same grey cloth
a child’s voice calling for help
in the miaow of a cat
the squalling of gulls
she is seen going to the shops
she is talked about behind her back
she touches things with a hand
that wont let go its tremor
small quick steps on the path
he runs but she can never catch up
the cruellest trick
she has learned not to move
Then there are the stories, some of which had me smiling from ear to ear, while others made me think for a long time, the way a good picture does. Many of them are about young people, and some of my favourites are about children. A family holiday, a small boy’s anticipation, fulfilment and disappointment, the inscrutable world of grown-ups, the adventure of travel – Holiday begins like this:
We’re going on holiday, mam said.
We’d never been on holiday before. Some of the kids at school had been on holiday and had to tell the class about it. Kerry Fraser said she’d been to the Isle of Eigg for Easter and everybody laughed. I was quite excited. Now I’d have something to tell the class.
The boy’s voice is so clear, so very much his own… will the holiday be a good one? You so much want it to be, for this disarming wide-eyed lad, but I won’t give it away. In these stories people drink too much, get into fights, fall in love, or at least think about it…and it all happens in a manner so graceful and natural you don’t ever see it being done.
Another favourite of mine is the delicious The Pinnacle of Experience. It’s the morning after the night before, and our luckless hero is not quite sure where to turn for comfort.
He took off his jacket and spread it on the parkbench. He sat on it, looked across the playing fields. It was a misty, cold afternoon. There was hardly anybody about. Just one or two folk walking their dogs. It was a Saturday. But it felt like a Sunday. He sipped from a can of orange lucozade. It tasted sweeter and more orangey than he could ever remember. It was staying down so far but he was burping a lot.
I love the economy of that ‘But it felt like a Sunday’. And I love the way the story pans out, with a secretive tenderness that catches you by surprise. Let yourself be surprised by Mark Edwards. His slim book will stay with you when noisier pleasures have long been forgotten.
CLEAROUT SALE is available now from ANDROMACHE BOOKS.