This collection of poems has as a theme clothes and styles that dress experiences, where fabrics are an aide memoire. Clothes and their changes mark significant events that come to permeate the very stitches, dressing and undressing the body as it morphs though alienation, weight fluctuations, and love. Outfits flatter or betray. The body and its drapes are psychological states where truth hides or is exposed. Sinclair has ensured that every emotion relates to materials. This keeps the poems tight and relevant to each other.
Though most of the playing with syntax works and surprises, such as:
‘suddenly she is red carpet glamour,’
from the poem ‘Speechless’'. in another line from the same poem,
‘Stepping into the dress her aunt barges in’
confuses without a comma following ‘dress’.
‘satisfied, her aunt whisks off to paparazzi loiter in the living room’.
Throughout this collection the body and the image it makes is rarely static. The fact that it moves adds to the believability and the theatrics of its situations:
‘Leant arms sweat slew off table as if tipsy’.
There is hyper-awareness of how the persona’s own presented image contrasts with that of other women:
‘Q-tip thin in linen shifts; they cat walk the city’.
Self-confidence is frequently a precarious business. Clothes are a minefield and often can’t be trusted, for example:
‘folds do not camouflage but balloon me to morbidly obese’.
Clothes are always a matter of judgement:
‘Envy prickles as I dig into my chocolate pudding,’
Their emotional value cuts deep.
The description of clothes is exquisite, as in…
‘Collar secured by midnight velvet tie’.
‘Midnight’ also evokes the romance of night life. We all put on clothes to become someone else:
‘peacock strutting over to buy a girl a drink,
them stroking his cony soft shoulder length hair
as he Jagger charmed them’.
Sometimes the person behind the clothes is elusive:
‘full visor slapped down like a knight into battle,’
and reality changes with the fantasy of each outfit. Life is lived in and out of the dressing-up box.
On rare occasions, though, the free verse line endings aren’t firm enough:
‘We line up before loo mirrors like show girls in’.
The dangling ‘in’ would be better on the next line. Yet other lines and their pacing are tremendous,
‘Irena, a language teacher, pins into place
with a lepidopterist’s care her fine hair, dyed russet,
permed to counterfeit volume’.
Despite the darkness of many of these poems, especially ones about the mother and daughter relationship, Sinclair balances their moods with a real wit:
‘She informs us Cosmetic surgery is cheap at home,
on retirement she intends to return from Prague looking rested’.
Make-up too is an act of creation, pure artifice:
‘Setting to work with brushes, colour, her self-portrait begins’.
Items take on characters of their own, sometimes pleasant, other times dangerous:
‘Pet-able fox pelt; big bad wolf skin’.
Associations are very affecting. Though clothes have a relationship to our fantasy life, these poems don’t shy away from the brutality of the real world and its poverty:
‘as for getting a job, she soon found no employer
could imagine Elizabeth Taylor selling sweaters’.
There is no sentimentality here. Clothes create identity and their herstories are narratives that make sense of it all but clothes are also agents of power:
‘despite wincing at each bread knife slash,
she remained adamant that no other woman would enjoy’ [them].
That fashion dates along with people is sad. There is a constant struggle to re-draw the self:
‘whilst you attempt to align Picasso eyes with liner’.
And objects are also far from passive. Some have a quicksand effect:
‘But in Top Shop a rogue looking glass ambushes you’.
A casual walk through a shop is overtaken by the process of managing disappointments.
The minimising of female expectations is another unhappy note:
‘You’d make an excellent sales girl dear
so Top Shop, Miss Selfridge, Snob…
marking time until marriage’.
The role of daughterhood is not an easy fit,
‘No trace yet of mother’s corrective genes,
but my father in drag’.
Being young is being lost.
There are some rhythms that stumble rather than glide, impairing easy reading,
‘disturbs the once white now ghost grey suit’
In contrast there are some wonderful original lines that are very well worked out,
‘but still a glitter-ball glint in his eye
when hand Freudian-slips dial from radio 4 to 2.’
Joy is another recurring emotion. The style of décor is also for dressing up experiences. Sinclair gets a splendid tone of camp just right, in this line:
‘I scoff the sundae’s whipped cream head; ogle pink-lit Liberace shell-encrusted fountain.’
Even eating needs its stage-set.
There is real subtlety:
‘I have gradually given ground to my weight,’
‘ground’ implying gravity, a profound choice of word. The very sound of it spreads out in the line.
Some lines are psychologically astute:
‘so you witness-protected your identity’
about a gay man’s public image contrasting with the private. The ordinariness of life is to be overcome by the putting on of clothes.
‘A Talent For Hats’ is a treat to read, full of glitz, frankness, fun and tragedy, with characters so well-drawn that you feel you have known them for some time. These are vivid poems with real panache. The use of language and its precision has genuine magic. Few other poets would mix these elements to create such a seamless whole.
Christopher Barnes co-edits the poetry magazine Interpoetry ( http://www.interpoetry.com/ ). Mentored by Andy Croft of the Morning Star's 'Well Versed' feature, he has contributed poetry reviews and performances in a number of gay and lesbian forums, broadcasts and art and photography events, including a film called 'A Blank Screen, 60 seconds, 1 shot' for Queerbeats Festival at The Star & Shadow Cinema, Newcastle, art criticism for Peel and Combustus Magazines and the Creative Engagement In Research Programme Research Constellation exhibitions of writing and photography which showed in London (March 13 2012) and Edinburgh (July 4 2013) see http://www.researchconstellation.co.uk/