Reaching Peckham by Hylda Sims (Hearing Eye)
Reviewed by Anna Robinson
Reaching Peckham is a book length sequence telling the story of a group of 3 disparate Peckham citizens. It is voiced by a narrator called Lorna, who is single and runs the local drop-in centre – hence her role as the one who can know all the others.
The others are – Oliver, a shy, slightly fat, local poet and Mehmet – a ‘young offender’ to whom Lorna is teaching literacy and life skills.
There are other characters woven into this mix – some based in realism – like Yula, Oliver’s Goth girlfriend and Lorna’s unnamed lover(s); some not – such as Blake’s Angels and Meg Peach – they float in and out of the sequence.
There are 3 introductory poems before Lorna’s voice takes over – one of these refers to her as a ‘first person/ unwrapping them…/ a landscape…/ a story…’
Not all the poems in the book are voiced by Lorna, the sequence is a little like a scrapbook or anthology, with the others getting to have a voice too, in between Lorna’s insights. This leads to a more rounded sense of who the others all are because Lorna is human and not the perfect narrator.
The sequence works within a tradition of urban poetry that regards cities as peopled landscapes. It is people and their relationships with each other and the things they surround themselves with that are as important (if not more) than the surrounding landscape.
Peckham, like many South London suburbs, has its open spaces, and these are present in the poem, but it is the closed spaces in cities that often make its citizens create their own interior landscapes. This is well reflected in the sequence – sometimes dreamlike in their interpretation of the mundane – such as in Deus Ex, Lorna is having a bath…
porous white clouds
cling round my knees, my breasts
the air is rich with heat…
or in Lost and Found – walking in the park feeling lonely –
in the early hours they drop by
humming tunes I can’t quite catch
disappear at daylight
my head is full of space
The sequence is witty and moving and has a sad ending I won’t spoil.
Hylda Sims is a musician as well as a writer and Reaching Peckham was written as a jazz piece and is also available on C.D. with music from the Boudicca Band. You can get either the book or C.D as a separate entity for £7.00 or buy both for £12.00 from Hearing Eye Books http://www.hearingeye.org