Long Haul Travellers
Some of the journeys in this collection can be found on maps. But some travellers are journeying from one self to another, like those strange adventurers Murat Reis and Tristan Jones. Some, like Adwaitya the tortoise, have traversed time as well as space. Some travel in dreams. And the longest-haul travellers of all are the dead, like Josephine, whose memory returns to haunt our consciousness and remind us that not all places can be found in the atlas.
Elisions, displacements, journeys, memories of journeys, dreams: this new collection of poems by Sheenagh Pugh has a pervasive elegiac quality. Known for her incisive narratives, many of these new poems work more by implication than explication. She uses a shorter line, briefer description and when there is dialogue it is often minimalist, oblique, refracted through camera or computer or telephone line. A typical protagonist is a bearded, anonymous elderly gentleman struck by a tram, carrying no papers, never named, only visible through the reported details that slowly resolve into a biography that we might come to recognise as a famous architect.
Another typical poem is ‘The Unconversations’ which is a beautiful paean to the shorthand of private references used by a long-married couple. ‘Murat Reis’ features the fractured life of a pirate, privateer, merchantman or mere explorer according to the multiple identities assumed and assayed in this poem, the various sections of which switch line lengths and rhythms. History provides encapsulated stories: such as in ‘Victor’ which mourns the life of a young, freed slave in Roman Times, implied from the illustrations on his gravestone. ‘Webcam Sonnets’ capture the subtle, sometimes poignant, sometimes sad, illusion of intimacy given via webcam contacts.
Review from Artemis Poetry
It s not surprising that Pugh's 2008 collection has the title Long-Haul Traveller. The idea of travel-escape, sad leaving, the driven travel of heroic age explorers, the greedy 'knocking about' on the high seas of buccaneers, travel through cyberspace - are all strong themes throughout her work. Int his collection the most striking poem is Murat Reis about the pirate probably better known to us as 'Mathew Rice'. It is interesting tat she takes an unattractive character and isolates not just his ruthlessness, but the courage behind the lawlessness and the need for new horizons, 'When the fog lifts, it is on a new place.' As is almost a commonplace of modern poetry publishing there are make-weights poems in both books. Pugh is highly intelligent, has wide interests and writes a pure, plain style. Hence she can knock up a good poem without necessarily a great deal of stretching and this shows at times. By contrast, some poems are exceptional by any standards, some are virtue of their psychological depth, some through the intensity of the language, sometimes both. Dylis Wood, Artemis Poetry Issue 5