Peter W Keeble
Dempsey & Windle
‘Passengers’ is Peter Keeble’s first collection and pulls together personal experiences, scenarios suggested by science fiction and figures from the past, such as Edward II and ancient Greeks, arrive in the present to provide comment on contemporary times. Personal experiences are not necessarily those of the poet, who is willing to use poems as vehicles for different points of view, as if trying on a role, e.g. in ‘When his Sister’s Out’ a teenaged boy slips on a pair of tights, ‘felt a new skin melt up my thighs/ to hook over hips’. The poem continues,
‘Everything else was neatly to hand
so I put them on one by one:
slit skirt, black bra and blouse,
blue high heel shoes,
then twin purple slicks for lips,
a touch of blusher
and a sprinkle of glitter.
Staring at my mirror inversion
I patted and preened,
saw how it all matched,
knew this was how it should be
and that there was no way back
when I heard her key
turn in the front door latch’
The tone is gentle, the boy is trying out a feminine mode of dressing. However, the line ‘there was no way back’ feels awkward because this is a cross-dresser, not someone seeking change their gender, so the feminine clothes feel natural but, in front of others, he revert to more masculine clothing. It feels as if the line is trying to tell the reader that being caught by his sister will lead to trouble. Readers already know this since the family are absent and he has clearly planned to dress up when no one is around to witness it. What the poem doesn’t cover is whether the clothes are borrowed or whether the boy has bought them himself.
The poet is also a photographer (the cover image is one of his photos) so photography pops up as a subject, e.g. in ‘An Experiment in Theology’ the narrator has a camera that takes ‘one picture a moment before the explosion’,
‘My second shot is for the aftermath:
for the Leader with his black hair full of dust,
bleached blue eyes oblivious to the blood from his gash,
skin shock white in the light of the flash.
film developed and printed,
we shall see how he was saved
by a lucky arrangement of furniture
that preserved his life for each one of the dead millions;
or if, indeed, God’s hand is visible
protectively cupped about His chosen one.’
Another poem has Theology students making toast in the kitchen at a party whilst mayhem takes place around them. In ‘Underground’, Father Antonios travels on London’s underground trains, silencing and stilling teenage boys but once
‘They’ve gone; the carriage is deserted now.
He sighs and pulls the player from his coat,
expertly flicks the earphones into place
and near Tottenham smiles as, to Meat Loaf,
he hits his loudest note, stands in the mock rock fame,
voice soaring high above the clattering train.’
The writer Agatha Christie is revived and walks through a country house eyeing up the ornaments, in ‘Objets d’Art through Agatha’s Eyes’, particularly a heavy glass vase, a souvenir piece of slate, a clock with a marble base, all potential murder weapons which causes the narrator to think,
‘Do the flats of servants, you may wonder,
gratify with so many methods of despatch
dusted each day to be ready
for a motive, opportunity and alibi?
Or would their Toby jugs and cheap plaster knick-knacks
splinter on impact
leaving no damage and scarcely any blood,
just two startled figures vexed
and wondering what to do next?
No, it’s where the well-to-do dwell
in their burglar-proof homes you will find
a better class of objects d’art ready to hand
for the jealous and greedy
to smash and grab their way up,
scornful of the notion their nemesis might stalk
in the form of an interfering old maid,
so fusty and staid with her logic and gossipy talk.’
The first quoted stanza is very much in keeping with the light-hearted tone of the poem and I’d have liked the poem to finish there. The final stanza feels judgemental with its ‘jealous and greedy’ and it’s jumped viewpoint from the pondering narrator to writing off Miss Marple as a ‘interfering old maid’.
One poem does stand out in having a different tone from the others. ‘Shadows 2017’ starts with an image of a brother’s ghost and continues with a reference to Grenfell (a London tower block destroyed by fire in 2017; its skeleton still stands),
‘chill silhouette against the sky,
steel ribs sticking out from that charred wreck.
Unlike nearby homes scalded in limelight
it cast no shadow at that dark time
stood deserted, gaunt, black
staring at the world from its bleak height.’
‘Passengers’ is a fun, clear read where the poet has gone beyond the personal ‘I’ narrative to explore other viewpoints and question contemporary life from different characters. Peter Keeble has created an accessible and varied debut collection.