Home » Poetry » The boy who couldn’t say his name – book review

The boy who couldn’t say his name – book review

John Lawrence’s The boy who couldn’t say his name is a joy to read, a book of poems packed with heart, humour and a unique slant on everyday life. The collection is underpinned but not dominated by the story behind the title, the painful experiences he endured as a child. His relationship with a Maths teacher is vividly described in Report: Maths 31%…

Her pinched cheeks, ivory, close enough to claw;
her quink-black eyes, close enough to skewer
with my newly sharpened HB pencil.

In the title poem, he refers in third person to a boy who is bullied because of his stammer ‘in the game of seek-and-chide’. In My Father’s Cap he writes

The day the kids at school find out
I’m Sally Army, I show them blood
but little fire. They vent their fury

at my deceit: this kid deserves
an extra slap. Bruises the colour
of my father’s cap.

Cornet Player on the Run opens with these lines:

Guilty. I deserted from the Salvation Army
halfway through Onward Christian Soldiers –

I have always enjoyed John’s poems, and it has been good to watch him gradually conquer stage fright over the years since I first warmed to his work. In An account of the last moments of the poet he translates his terror with his trademark humour:

When I take the wrong turn and find myself
clomping up the steps to the block,
take my word, it’s not what I want to do –
a bloody inconvenient way to go.

And in the hilarious DIY and Me, he expresses a similar – though not so extreme – feeling of alienation as he joins the queue in ‘Plumbers R Us’:

I join the queue, trying to stand like a plumber,
…..
As a huge fan of close-coupling, my ears prick up,
…..
I feel like a fish out of water
like Ricky Gervais on Songs of Praise

There are some memorable lines like, for example, in Inventory: in my shed I have the following

one garden rake, handle whittled to a point
a Charles and Di ashtray with a half-smoked joint

He’s good on titles too:

In the Museum of Air Guitars
Hair Loss: The Musical
The Lament of the Zanussi Luminary

It has always been a pleasure listening to John’s work, and I am delighted that V Press are publishing this collection so that more people can enjoy, and no doubt relate to, his unique take on the ordinary and his wicked imagination.

Heather Wastie

Click here for further information about The boy who couldn’t say his name.

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