Grant Tarbard, Rosary of Ghosts, Indigo Dreams Publishing, 2017. ISBN: 978-1-910834-47-3. £6.00.
Rosary of Ghosts is an intensely honest and exquisitely written collection in which Tarbard records his experiences after a stroke in 2012. His poems are the throbbing of anguish and frustration, which in their publication, mark steps on the road to making amends with himself, perhaps towards a place of better self-understanding, self-acceptance and ultimately, survival.
While individually the poems are often dark and bleak, a wicked imagination and a deep wisdom permeate throughout. What I find most interesting about the collection is the exploration of the self and the body; the body acting a transporter of the human essential self, separate yet at the same time an intrinsic part of the whole. For example the poem ‘Absence’ describes: “I’m a man in badly fitting flesh, / it’s too baggy in the leg, / this absence loiters in time.”
Again in, ‘Broken Pinnochio’, the bodies of those who are frail with sickness, is a carrier and a mask, under which the invisible being of the man can be found, challenging the reader to reconsider their perceptions through the use of taboo language, such as the word “cripples”:
To regard the invisible man
you have to look past this callow parade
of Victorian caricatures of cripples.
It’s hard to make your way round them,
bandaged into a bed eternally,
these bones of a broken Pinocchio.
The recurring motif of the mask repeats itself again in ‘Night Before an Operation’, the mask here perhaps a disguise from death itself, a mask from one’s own fear. The imagery is sombre yet creative and playful:
I use Egyptian blue ink to paint my
eyes shut, and in my pyjama pocket folds
there’re a hundred painted idols that keep guard
over my clay pudding until the next day.
Pain is ever present in this collection. The poem ‘Pretty Boy’ suggests that the creation of these poems was a painful process in itself: “Capturing the present seems so serious now, / the dust grows thick between gnawed ribs.” Throughout the book, raw and surprising imagery is employed such as in ‘Hasten to the Pasture’: “Silverfish crawl around my skull.” Furthermore in ‘How to Be Air’: “mistrusting finger joints and the arm’s gristle / to tighten – snatching out at aerials on rooftops.” And in ‘Triptych’: “The pain from old wounds / ache like wedding white.”
Even as pain is faced down, grasped and seeped away, recovery is a nearly-impossible process, through which the poet skillfully makes one moment feel as if it is an eternity. In ‘Vascular Graft’:
In my recovery through the windows
the lampposts leer like sickles,
my teeth and gums almost vicious with morphine.
I rest on gnawing bone in a thin lipped sneer.
The title poem is a stand-out piece in which the poet laments the helplessness and rawness of being close to death, in both physical and spiritual terms. The restriction and sense of constraint is evident:
Spindrift pale night suspended like my sin,
made of in-flight mist in a steamed breath tomb.
My skeleton is a ramshackle tin,
my body is no place to be stuck in.
Tarbard’s Rosary of Ghosts is a painful assimilation of new life and personal trauma. It is the slow removal of a mask. It is spirited and witty while at the same time brutally dark and disarmingly honest. This is an accomplished collection of strange imaginative imagery in the candid treatment of fear, pain and trauma. I highly recommend this book.
You can buy Rosary of Ghosts here.
Jack Little is a British-Mexican poet, editor and translator in Mexico City. He is the author of ‘Elsewhere’ (Eyewear, 2015) and is the founding editor of The Ofi Press. His own poetry was recently published in Riggwelter.