Regular Autumn Voices contributor, Anne Dunford, is back with another book review for us. This time, we asked her to review Stewart Conn’s latest pamphlet, Underwood, published by Mariscat Press this summer.
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The title of this, Stewart Conn’s fourth poetry pamphlet, is taken from the old Underwood Standard typewriter which Stewart had inherited from his father. Back in the day, his father used it to ‘hammer out his sermons’. Now, in 2022, it serves both as an inspiration for the title poem and an eye-catching image on the pamphlet’s cover.
Stewart Conn was born in Glasgow in 1936. In 1977 he became BBC Scotland’s head of radio drama, based in Edinburgh where he has since lived and worked.
In 1992, not long after after receiving a gold medal award at the New York Radio Festival for his production of John Purser’s play Carver, he left to become a freelance writer and has been busy ever since.
In 2002 he was appointed Edinburgh’s inaugural Makar, where his role was to raise the profile of both the city and poetry. He’s a prolific and award winning playwright and poet so a new publication by him is something to look forward to.
The poems in Underwood cover a range of subjects – observations on the natural world, the fragility of life, reflections on old age and death, art, relationships, music and ghosts – an eclectic mix! It makes for an enjoyable, poignant and thought provoking read.
The centre spread of the book is devoted to ghosts, and in ‘Merry Spectres’ he asks, ‘Where are they now/ the Merry Spectres of yesteryear/ the old-fashioned kind/ bearing their heads under their arms … the Jolly Clankers/ dragging heavy chains’ to be replaced by real horrors of ‘the elderly dementing in care/ homes, clutching those ready to sacrifice themselves in the course of duty.’
In complete contrast, the first poem, ‘A Gift of Doves’ gives us a delightful image ‘… collared doves crash-land with a flurry/ and wreak havoc like ‘two busty floozies/ in a millinery store …’
More avian observations come with ‘In the Air’ as Stewart observes young swifts who in their lifetime fly twice to the moon and back, but as month-old chicks do ‘press-ups in the nest/to strengthen their wings for their first flight.’
Some poems will especially resonate with Autumn Voices members as Stewart writes about situations facing us as we get older – thoughts of moving house, leaving places full of memories and other inevitable losses. But there is a lightness of touch and the poems are moving, not morbid.
In his last poem in the collection, ‘Bowing Out’, Stewart notes how a writer ‘wishes one’s oeuvre, at least, an afterlife.’ He finishes with the line ‘I can only hope that this will be au revoir, not adieu!’
I do hope that it is certainly not ‘adieu’ and we will see more pamphlets by Stewart Conn, with more of his observations on the natural world, reflections on relationships and the significance of art and music in our lives.
Anne Dunford is a writer in her seventies who lives in Wigtown. She has enjoyed a checkered career mostly involving teaching reading (from infants to adults) and later training teachers and volunteers in effective methods for reluctant readers. Her move to Galloway in 2002 meant more time for writing (although writing up five years’ work on a PhD was abandoned in favour of plays and poetry).
Anne’s short plays and monologues have been performed at The Swallow Theatre, but more recently her focus has been on writing poetry. Her poems have been published in a number of anthologies, poetry magazines and online – most recently, Wigtown Book Festival commissioned Anne to write a poem on the theme of ‘Hello Stranger’ for their 2021 programme, and a recording of it is available online.
Her latest collection of poetry, From The Mountains to the Sea, inspired by the landscape and illustrated by her husband Les Dunford’s photographs, has been published to raise money for research into Fibromyalgia. It’s available in Clatteringshaw’s Visitor Centre, Wigtown and surrounding area local bookshops or by contacting Anne by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Her blog, Life’s a Beach, contains random thoughts and poems.
Annual Poetry Competition
Theme: ‘The Environment’
Deadline: 31st October 2022 – Entries now closed