Jam in Aisle 3. Nicky Phillips. Dempsey and Windle Press. 2017
This is a collection that uses the sonnet in all forms from Shakespearian and Petrarchan to those with a more modern twist. These are sonnets for our era that broaden the traditional theme of passionate love out to include any subject in our lives we feel strong emotion for from landscape to a pair of designer shoes. Moreover, a type of anti-sonnet is presented that comments wryly on the paucity of emotion in some modern relationships.
The collection is very much a middle -aged summation of a life’s emotional experience. Initially in Egg & Bacon Sonnet. (I must add here that the poet has a talent for appropriate titles), there is the intense passion of a youthful love affair that in time is spent.
Some sonnets broaden out to deal with other passions in our lives. In the poet’s view these are just as valid as romantic affairs. So, we have love for children and emotional ties with landscapes. Whilst the poet employs fine imagery throughout she also laces her work with humour which is an excellent way of avoiding sentimentality. In one poem Thinking ahead from my Hospital bed, the narrator fancifully imagines a worst-case scenario and wonders how her possessions will be divvied up amongst her family after her death. The inclusion of a pair of Jimmy Choo shoes, hidden under the bed, suggests a secret passion for such shoes that are kept from her husband. Whilst the sonnet is quirky it does also have a more serious purpose. Family members are given thumb nail sketches that rather dams them as they appear variously avaricious and unreliable. In a similar way the eponymous poem Jam in Aisle 3 deals with a love hate relationship with food shopping that I am sure will resonate with most women. Here a combination of rampant materialism and chaotic parenting show a society losing its way in terms of genuine love. These are in a sense anti sonnets where love and passion are drowned out by the skewed values of modern life. The most arresting of these comes in the poem Keep it in the Family concerning the trend amongst young women to tick box their way through dating, marriage, mother hood at the expense of real passion.
Indeed, some sonnets are not afraid to deal with the darker side of emotion. This is a hinterland between love and hate. Saddleworth, focuses on the mother of a "Moors Murder" victim who never ceases to long for the child, which is the very opposite of the toxic Brady/Hindley relationship. Monday Morning presents a phone call from a young woman during a suicide attempt who has clearly fallen out of love with life itself. The poet then skilfully counterbalances this darker side of the emotional spectrum with a sonnet dealing with an elderly husband tenderly caring for his wife through dementia.
This collection refreshes the sonnet form by broadening its range of emotional engagement. It examines modern life in the prism of the form. Middle aged love is revealed as rich and rewarding. At the same time, it presents anti sonnets that flag up the hollowness of an emotional landscape in a society that races after materialism at the cost of a genuine emotional experience.
© Fiona Sinclair 2017