The Man at the Corner Table

Rosie Shepperd
Publication Date: 
Thursday, July 9, 2015
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Rosie Shepperd’s debut poetry collection,The Man at the Corner Table, crackles with the unexpected. The voice is one of urban sophistication; a merciless charm that teases and tempts us with sensual evocations of food and place. The reader is surprised with tastes, scents, colours and textures. There is a winning insistence on detail offered with an irony that blends into satire.

The poems adopt a deadly seriousness to the business of comedy.  In‘It isn’t just the under-floor heating that makes me lie down in the kitchen’, the poem explores the ineffable by sending it up in a domestic setting that subverts as it disconcerts.

The gorgeous place settings of these poems are not just carefully delineated backdrops. They toy with our interpretations of ‘at table’. As in a Dutch master ‘tablescape’, they become symbolic of our relation to ourselves, to others and the world.

These poems are exquisite meals, to be devoured amidst surprising intimacies, like the search for solace that is edging towards something more in ‘Balthazar Bakery, Spring Street, NY. Others explore troubling scenarios of grief and loss, such as the heartbreak in ‘You all have lied…’. Sometimes the poems appear like postcards from beautifully observed moments of exile, as in ‘Chorinho’ – where the author is hounded and haunted by unease. As in Elizabeth Bishop’s ‘Questions of Trael’ there is artfulness in this unease, and an obligation to close observation that resolutely refuses to moralize.


Review by Jessica Traynor

Monday, April 2, 2018

Fabulous Beasts

Alison Hackett, crabbing (21st Century Renaissance, 2017), €18.
Amanda Bell, first the feathers (Doire Press, 2017), €12.
Rosie Shepperd, The Man At The Corner Table (Seren Books, 2015), £9.99.

The debut collection is often a composite creature; a mythological hybrid of sorts, the result of a decade or so of poetic meanderings and experiment. When they are successful, they have the savage beauty of a sphinx or a chimera; this is balanced by the risk that the work could turn out neither fish nor fowl. These three collections all bear the hallmarks of the debut, containing poems on themes of universal relevance: love affairs (failed or successful), the death of beloved parents, and childhood memories. They all explore the use of form to give these familiar themes a fresh gloss. The mark of success in these instances is whether a fresh and engaging voice emerges to imbue these universal themes with a particular life and energy.



From one airborne collection to another, Rosie Shepperd’s The Man at the Corner Table is perhaps the best travelled of our fantastical creatures; a cosmopolitan sphinx of a collection. Shepperd’s is a unique and confident voice which delights in the surreal, and although we find ourselves again in the territory of love and loss, we’ve seldom viewed the terrain from this angle. In ‘it’s not just the underfloor heating that makes me lie down in the kitchen’, the poet literally takes to the kitchen floor in an attempt to find a position which might make life bearable, ‘even though I know the dog / will try to lick my face and / even though crystals of mouse bait lie / blue and a yard from my nose’.
        This is a collection which tempers loss with humour in a manner that is always refreshing and surprising. These are poems which feature trap-doors into unexpected new landscapes. A quick wit means the poems
 are often spiky, but never devoid of empathy, and the reader often finds themselves moved by a deft change in tone. In ‘What I need, Bernard, is a bit of notice;’, the speaker tersely demands a little consideration from her unresponsive partner when planning his imminent funeral: ‘I don’t have a preference and it is your funeral. / I just wish, / I wish we had longer to look at the menus.’ This funny litany is exploded later in the poem, as the poet blind-sides us with a moment of intimacy:

I’m going to hold your hand now.
                                  This is like the old days. Remember the picnics?

You always forged ahead with your spy-nocs to find the perfect spot,
                               said you wouldn’t risk detritus spoiling our cold cuts.

Your hands were always fresh and cool,

                                         rather like ham, Bernard, rather like
                                                       a nice tinned ham.

Shepperd’s eye for minute but meaningful details, and her ability to balance pathos and bathos, are again demonstrated in ‘Lump’, a poem that deals with an ungainly and neglected teenager. It’s a rare talent to be able to address a tragic situation with such clear-eyed wit, and the wry sadness of the poem’s final line echoes in the reader’s mind:

Last month he ran onto platform 11, towards an Intercity and into

a ticket attendant from St Lucia who provided a small sweet cup
     of polystyrene tea, a telephone number and enough soothing
silence. Poor lump, I should not know this about you, but I do.

     I know this about you and you know I know and I know you do.

Shepperd’s poems loop and unravel across the page, and many of their titles serve as the poem’s first line. This approach helps to unpack the density of Shepperd’s vision, which at times can take a little time for the reader to access. However, these poems are full of rewards and each of their composite parts – their lion’s mane, their serpent’s tail – is a thing of beauty in and of itself.
Each of these three collections merits further exploration than time or space will allow here; this, again, is the challenge of commenting on debuts which have clearly been many years in the making. It will be interesting to see how these fantastical creatures evolve – whether they choose to settle, daemon-like, into one form, or to maintain their com- posite nature over the course of collections to come.

Review by Andrew C. Rogers, DURA

Friday, July 1, 2016

When reading poetry I have a habit of dog-earing the most affecting pages. Unfortunately for my edition of Rosie Shepperd’s The Man at the Corner Table, I’ve dog-eared damn near every page. Shepperd trained as an economist and has worked in finance throughout the UK and the US, all the while publishing poems in the US, the UK, Ireland and France. She was shortlisted for the 2014 Forward Prize and has won a number of other prizes.

What struck me in her poetry was her ability to isolate the nuances of surroundings to bring her reader’s perceptions to the forefront of a scene. The majority of this collection’s poems are akin to cinematic exposition shots, showing foreign locations to her reader.

         A few families sit around like spoons,
                                     the softness in their words mixes with sounds
                    of the evening, the heat and the beach.
they smile into small jugs of oranges
                                              floating in sweet, spiced wine. (“Chorinho”)

Arguably, any poet can write a poem with prevailing sounds, but it takes a craftsman like Shepperd to give the reader the heat, the passion and the sizzle of a Brazilian beach. The “s”s build in anticipation of the “spiced”. “Sweet” and “spiced” with their terminal “t” sounds create a stammer in the line’s rhythm. Throughout the poem there is only the merest hint of rhythm, but listen to Waldir Azevedo’s Brasileirinho and “sounds of the evening” makes perfect sense. And still there is charm simply in her simile. I did not know that people could sit around “like spoons”. That might read initially like an insult and yet, when re-read, its slightly surreal image suggests the intimacy and warmth of a father holding a mother from behind as she might her child, or recalling people sitting on a motorbike.

The collection has quite an obsession with food. Every single poem in The Man at the Corner Table alludes to food :

The chef at Suntory considers sea bream for (maybe) ten seconds.
                         He selects yellowfin with absurd red flesh,
                  smiles at the silvery scales;
                                 the dark lines on her back smile back.
(“Somewhere I read that a thought can be exaggerated…”)

This is Shepperd at her most comfortable, bringing a scene to life. As she said in an interview; “there’s a deliberation in my enjoyment of tastes which is very similar to my enjoyment of words and images”. That very sensory relish is so often missed in poetry and Shepperd brings that frequently omitted opportunity into the reader’s domain.

While I praise Shepperd’s ability to develop a long exposure of any scene, the poem belonging to the most dog-eared page is “the idea of buying a hat for you…”. I won’t quote from it as it simply does not work in out-of-context segments. This pivotal poem stands outs beautifully in the middle of the collection. From the title onwards, the poem’s run on sentence takes sharp aim at how we spend hours musing about doing something, only to not do it at all. This is a blindingly insightful stab in the middle of her collection.

Despite the time it took me to lean into her poetry, Rosie Shepperd’s The Man at the Corner Table is rich and vibrant, new enough to interest, but sufficiently grounded to be believable. Every meal is a poem, and every poem is a meal. Should you ever feel the need to imagine Brazil, read “Chorinho”.

Andrew C. Rogers

Review by Chrissy Williams, Poetry London

Thursday, May 26, 2016

The most striking thing about Rosie Shepperd’s The Man At The Corner Table, in comparison to these others, is the organic flow with which she frequently approaches lineation:


Like the drunk poet who roams the Left Bank

                     thinking he’s on to something

                               if he can only find it

                                         I’m trying to find you after all this (I’ll just say) time.

          (‘Vanishing act’)


The breaths and pauses are built explicitly onto the page for the reader in a way that feels casual, but is often tightly controlled within its own regulated form. In the poem ‘You are here’ it seems at first that the lines drift down the page freely, but in fact form a highly regular four-line stanza form, with similar line lengths, and repeating words at the starts and ends of lines throughout. There’s also a wonderful rollicking beach-front sestina, and some unconventional sonnets for good measure, all handled with a pensiveness that feels modern:


It starts when a waiter

                  watches me

                                    look down as though a meteor

                  lies burning though the tablecloth

                      (‘There is nothing sudden about it…)


Formal dissent (or typography flexibility), repetition and rhythm sing through these poems, and there is generally little figurative language. This is occasionally addressed directly in the poems, such as in ‘Ponte Vecchio’ where the last line is an apparent nod to technique, whilst also, and more importantly, reinforcing the emotional statement being made. A disconnected couple sits in Florence when:


A flat-faced woman passes, with roses wrapped in cellophane


It’s been a while now since I’ve stopped making regular use

                                          of similes .


In a place of similes we have experience and a well-travelled ‘real’ life. Shepperd’s delightful poem titles echo this. There are some simple noun titles (like ‘Anchorman’ or ‘Lizard’), which are then interspersed with more Ashbery-esque philosophical statement titles, some of which function as first lines, for example: ‘Somewhere I read that a thought can be exaggerated, while an emotion cannot’ or ‘There is nothing sudden about it; this is not where I want to be’. These poems feel like snapshots of the human condition, organic and reflective. Many carry a sense of autobiography, but feel more like individual paintings, delicately framing moments of our contemplation, from endearing humour to intense sadness.


Chrissy Williams’ anthology Over the Line: an Introduction to Poetry Comics (Sidekick, 2015) was reviewed in PL 83. 

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