Afternoons Go Nowhere
By Sheenagh Pugh
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A fascination for history, both as a source of human drama and a field for artful speculation, characterises this collection of poems by Sheenagh Pugh from Seren press. Here we are with the rebels who sack the Palace of Savoy or inside the head of the disturbed King of France, who was convinced he was made of glass, or with the Bishop Thorlack, blessing a demon-haunted cliff.
We are as much taken with the gaps in the chronicles, the elisions, the rumours, as we are with the relics: stone ruins, statues plagued by seagulls, the Maid of Norway in a stained-glass window. The marginalia in illuminated manuscripts inspires a poem with ‘asides’ by the Monk in a medieval scriptorium. There is a heartbreakingly lovely poem ‘The Centenaries’ that vividly evokes the battles of World War One as their anniversaries arrive in sequence. There is a thoughtful series evoking a trip to Canada by a ‘tour’ through its time zones.
Primarily about people, this collection is also steeped in northern weathers and waters of the Scottish Isles, where Pugh now lives. The title poem refers to the abrupt darkness in winter afternoons, but also to a theme of timelessness running through the collection as in ‘Visitor’ where the protagonist is a skull that emerges from an eroded cliff only to lurch back and disappear with it, “like a neighbour who called in/ just once, and whom we never got to know” a both stern and lovely evocation, a memento mori.
In Afternoons Go Nowhere the past seems more relevant to the present than ever, human nature never entirely predictable and often non-sensical, the natural world seeming full of a paradoxical beauty. There is also a piece entirely sympathetic to the digital new age where people in a ‘Bus Station’ are seen staring at their phones, the poem sings praises of connectivity in an otherwise dull context. Complex but with clear themes and lucid, musical language, Sheenagh Pugh’s tenth collection will delight discriminating readers.Tweet
Afternoons Go Nowhere by Sheenagh Pugh
1) reviewed by Jill Hasler
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ I really enjoyed dipping my toe into reading poetry. This is a slim anthology which has forty-six very different poems in it.
So what did I like? The poems were engaging and accessible, every word counted and none were wasted. Three of my favourites were:
Afternoons Go Nowhere
This captures the sense of not getting everything done you mean to during the long days of summer as the end of the holiday season looms. I loved the lines
“Somehow no one is ever quite ready
For this …”
The economical and well chosen words convey a lot in twelve short lines.
This is more of a historical story harking back to Patagonia in 1922. The poem is about a “house of ill fame” and the five women plying their trade there. They resisted the troops attempts to enjoy their services after mowing down fifteen hundred striking peasants. I think this is based on a true story. It ends with inspiring lines:
“and there are times nothing hits home
like an angry woman with a good broom.”
The more of age, the nearer
This poignant poem chimed with me. It describes an old man’s enjoyment of everyday details e.g. woodsmoke. He had yearned when younger to have “the run of all the unnumbered galaxies “ and now settles for the every day wonders above space travel.
2) reviewed by Kathy Livingstone
⭐️⭐️ Whilst I can believe other readers will delight in SP’s poems, I failed to be moved by the majority of them. Nonetheless, there were a few that I did enjoy:
• The Winchman on Oscar Charlie - interesting musing about a man and his job
• La Catalana - succinct and amusing, yet powerful retelling of a slice of unexpected solidarity in history
• The Painter’s Bored Husband - an altogether humorous proposition of accidental hoax from the past
Sheena Pugh’s knowledge and craft with words deserves a reader more interested and au fait with history than I.
3) reviewed by Pamela Tindall
Many of the poems in this collection are inspired by historical themes or travels to Canada. The poems are very varied which makes it a delight to discover each one. I particularly enjoyed
'Central time' which evokes beautifully the vastness of Canada and 'Airline pilots' which gives a wonderful thumbnail sketch in words of the way pilots speak to their passengers. The title poem 'Afternoons go nowhere' is about the end of the tourist season when in a cruise ship port town. Sheenagh Pugh takes a seemingly minor observation and gives the reader an enriching insight. I was glad to find these poems