In Good Weather the Sign Outside reads Danger Quicksand by Sarah Hymas: A Review


(c) Sarah Hymas 2014

In Good Weather the Sign Outside reads Danger Quicksand (art-booklet: letterpress cover, transparent photographic end-papers, card, recycled rubber band binding, 2014) Limited edition of 48. £9 inc p+p

I first became aware of Sarah Hymas’ work when I reviewed her pamphlet-poem Lune for Sabotage Reviews. That poem was a kind of meditation on the ecology, in the widest sense, of the intertidal spaces of the Lune estuary, with its sea, tides and nearby power station marking a limnal space in which the poem performed an act of observation, in every sense of the world.

The four prose poems that comprise In Good Weather the Sign Outside Reads Danger Quicksand, although stylistically quite different to Lune, inhabit the same land- and seascape and evince some of the same concerns, with the question of human-to-human love moving to a somewhat more central position. The core of the set is the story of an operation undergone by the narrator’s partner. This story is apparently one which the narrator has heard repeatedly, and with variations:

‘how assured the surgeon, how he has fixed you, how it hasn’t worked, how you have no trust in your body, how it’s better than before, how it’s early days yet, how you hate your father and his genes, how you can’t blame anyone.’

It appears that the anaesthetic that was administered in advance of this operation did not work properly, partly as a result of adrenalin kicking in.

The irritation and guilt felt by the narrator is set against a backdrop of sea storm so bad that ‘the sign can’t be read’ and the narrator finds herself fearing for the integrity of her home in the face of sea and storm. It’s impossible not to read this external threat to the building as being a kind of parallel to the unnamed threat to ‘your’ health. This sense is reinforced by a repetition of the adrenalin rush.

Once the storm has abated, the narrator escapes to the world outside and busies herself in the work needed to ‘restore the shore to how it was before the storm’, reassured by the fact that it ‘cannot sulk or say it doesn’t need me’. Of course, things can never be exactly the same as they were, either inside or out, and the closing image of a bottle that ‘needs decanting of its emulsified content before being bagged’ closes one circle through the narrative arc.

This narrative shape can be followed through the titles of the four pieces: ‘This is Not Good Weather’; ‘That Story You Tell’; ‘Over and Over’; ‘Later’. It’s a story that intertwines the personal and the public so that they illuminate each other at interesting angles, another way in which this pamphlet echoes the earlier, and in many ways quite different, work.

The writing is, for the most part, tight, limpid and almost matter-of-fact. There are moments of acute visual perception, as when the sea water beating against the window means the ‘glass isn’t to look through any more, but to look at’ or, in the aftermath, ‘Crab apples nub the browning marsh

It would be impossible to review In Good Weather without commenting on it as a physical object. It’s a little square folding puzzle, just 10.5 cm square, the cover a silver card mirror with the title letterpressed on. Inside is a rich blue with transparent endpapers portraying ghostly storms. The pages are folder and variously oriented so as to invite multiple paths through; the text being discovered by multiple unfoldings and turnings, and the whole thing bound together by a sturdy rubber band. A pleasure to read in every sense.