Himself by the Seaside, a collection of poems and prose by Ian Anderson, Alasdair Gordon, Bill Robertson and Cal Wallace, four members of Aberdeen’s Lemon Tree Writers, was launched at the Aberdeen Douglas Hotel on Saturday 24 September 2011 as part of New Words 2011.
Published by Lemon Tree Writers, and with a cover illustration by Cal Wallace, the book is available at any Lemon Tree Writers event.
Review by Steven Porter
Alasdair Gordon may open this anthology of poetry and prose from four of Aberdeen’s Lemon Tree Writers with some love poems, but don’t be fooled into thinking this is an anthology for Valentine’s Day. His excellent High Wire is a striking contrast. So much so that it is hard to believe it was written by the same person. High Wire is something of a narrative poem, written in the historical present, about Scottish emigrants setting out for Canada. But there is an unexpectedly sweet ending. Himself by the Seaside, the Gordon poem that provides the title for this anthology, is both descriptive and evocative, ensuring that we are all given the opportunity to savour the many sensations of the coastline.
Again, there is a noticeable shift in Gordon’s later poems in the anthology. Blundergeist seems like more of a stream-of-consciousness experiment, but includes some highly original phrasing, such as ‘the horsey clatter of the every day’, and intriguing lines about giving a pig bubble gum. The mind boggles. One wonders if the poet saw ‘the guy spinning plates on stage just before Elvis came on’ or if this was plucked from a psychedelic dream or film. Gordon also dishes up some humourous wordplay with In The Bistro, where a famous chef puts ‘the hurt into yoghurt’. Sounds like Hell’s Kitchen, but much tastier.
Bill Robertson’s stories could appeal to adults and teenagers alike. Although both Stupid Baby and Still Life feature childhood perspectives and memories, these tales are all the better for not presenting the past as more virtuous or innocent than the here and now. Growing up has its traumas and young people are not easily fooled by selective rose-tinted memories, even if doesn’t take long to be tricked into subscribing to this view. Make no mistake, the seventies or eighties had their horrors too, much like any other decade. Robertson’s tales reflect this, while not losing sight of the good times in the form of games and other cultural references from back then. There might just be a twist in the tale, à la Roald Dahl, but that would be telling.
Cal Wallace is another short story writer partial to taking on a child’s persona. As in Robertson’s stories, sinister undercurrents are not far from the surface. ‘It’ features an imaginary friend who gets up to no good. The nastiness has only just begun. Wallace’s other story, The Black Stuff, is unlikely to be picked up by the Irish Tourist Board. Hopefully the establishment in question, an Irish Fawlty Towers run by a miniature Basil by the sounds of it, does not feature among their recommendations. However, the story is to be commended for the attention to detail in Wallace’s prose and the images he conjures up — not all pleasant! There’s also a controversial debunking of the Guinness myth. Once tasted, never forgotten, indeed.
Ian Anderson’s mature poems, while also quite dark, add sobriety to this anthology. My personal favourite is probably Sunset, in which the poet asks who still remembers those so neatly laid / in soldierly array / round each bend in the road? Carefully chosen words that echo the best in war poetry from ‘crimson Flanders’. And no North-East collection would be truly complete without some Doric-Scots. Happily, this is provided by Ian Anderson’s verse. In both Ashes and Black and White Days, life and death converge as the poet’s observing eye watches the journey.
Steven Porter, October 2011
Steven Porter is the author of The Iberian Horseshoe — A Journey (badosa.com, Barcelona 2007), Shellfish and Umbrellas (poetry: Koo Press, Aberdeen 2008), Blurred Girl and Other Suggestive Stories (Thunderclap Press, New Jersey 2010), and Countries of the World (fictional memoir / sports fiction: Breogan Books 2011).
||Ian Anderson has had a varied career in computing then internal auditing. He developed his recent interest in poetry during a course with the Open University and this prompted him to join Lemon Tree Writers. A number of his poems draw upon his other recently developed passion for horse riding.|
||Alasdair Gordon was born in Aberdeen. He travelled to Greece in a green-and-yellow Morris van in 1969 and stayed there for fifteen years, working as an English teacher. He enjoys Japanese forms like haiku, and Greek poetry and folk-songs. He finds translating the latter a fascination and a stimulus.|
||Since joining the Lemon Tree Writers, Bill Robertson has produced a substantial number of short stories mostly dealing with darker side of life. His work has appeared in the Lemon Tree Anthology Journeys, Chapman and most recently Shortbreadstories.co.uk. He is threatening to write a novel one day.|
||Cal Wallace wrote The Cat Sat on the Mat at the age of five. Accusations of plagiarism quickly ensued and his crayons were confiscated. After decades of therapy he resumed his writing ambitions, creating many fine stories. His first collection, The Man with the Silver Eye, was published in 2010 by Blue Salt Publishing.|