3:AM Salutes Sian S. Rathore
By Max Dunbar.
Softcore Cloudstep, Sian S. Rathore, 79 Rat Press, 2013
In the autumn of 2010 a beautiful, exasperating young woman appeared in Manchester: Sian Rathore. A singer-songwriter, critic and poet, her inventive approach to the spoken word made her a hit at the poetry nights there, and in terms of content her work eclipsed the more established mediocrities of that city. Sian is very much a poet of the digital age with a lively presence on Twitter, a plethora of blogs and tumblrs, an occasional column for the Huffington Post and a passion for something called ‘flarf poetry’ which I am too old to pretend to understand. So in Sian’s collection there is a poem about bereavement, called ‘She Sometimes Still Emails Him’ – where the narrator has just bought a smartphone and is messaging a dead friend, while still struggling to work out the keypad. (‘Youd; have really lvoed one/Apple make there own Phones now’). Another poem lists the bizarre search terms people have used to find Sian’s blog. The rhythms are like electronica and the locale is contemporary, abounds with references to Blackberry messaging, Spotify and Made in Chelsea. Yet the poetry comes from a traditional place. Sian is better read than most of her peers and her favourite book is Wuthering Heights.
Sian has a somewhat turbulent romantic life, suffers from bipolar disorder and, as a person, can be fairly scattershot and disorganised. So it’s always a double take when you read her stuff and realise quite how disciplined she is as a writer. Every word has been put on trial for its life. That discipline is coupled with a cold, caustic, Parker-style sense of humour. A few lines from her poem ‘The Last Stand of the World’s Most Famous Observational Comedian’, a satire on male dominated stand up, recall even Eliot at his most vitriolic:
The great observer overflows from the seat at the strip club
With white foam collecting at the corners of his mouth
Like small clouds precipitating the sweat on his upper lip
With one hand in his pocket and one between her breasts
Before she forces it back
God, it’s mad in’t it, this so-called ‘women’s lib’
The exotic dancer who had the recent abortion
Notices his failed erection
And sniggers with unsubtle laughter.
And this, from ’20 Ways in Which I Perpetuate a Rumour’ where the narrator pretends to be married:
2. Sometimes when we walk in a room together I use a
marriagey kind of phrase in a loud stage whisper to him, e.g ‘I
am thinking duck eggshell blue for the guest room’
14. I have started using ‘summer’ as a verb.
19. I announce we are thinking of making pots of jam and
elderflower Champagne as Christmas presents this year (the
jam shan’t be a patch on Aunt Josephine’s though)
Sian’s wit comes from a informed feminist standpoint, weathered by messy relationships, the same ironic sensibility that powered her critique of Fifty Shades. The writing carries a weight of lived experience, combined with an acute knowledge of how people talk and act. In person Sian reminds me of Lizzy Bennet, with her ‘lively, playful disposition, which delighted in anything ridiculous’, and it’s rare for poetry to have laugh out loud dialogue, but Sian manages it: ‘Your hair looks really big today’ you will say. ‘There’s a bomb under this bed’ I will reply. I have not really planted a bomb.’
Softcore Cloudstep takes on the great themes of love and death, things that Sian knows, having lived more in her twenty-four years than most people pack into eighty. Like John Hall, another unsung Manchester hero, Sian is a self made woman – there was no trust fund or family wealth to rely on throughout her undergraduate degree. In ‘The Scorpion and the Frog’ she addresses a high born lover: ‘Dragged you to my one-horse-town by the scruff of your neck, I did. To show you the simpler things. At drab farmers’ markets where you laughed at their quaintness, your clothes were a dead giveaway to you being a city boy at heart, forgetting home.’ Then: ‘I remember Manchester evenings back when I didn’t breathe with Manchester itself, buzzing under neon lights until we got back home, where we sleep under lamps that give a hushed up glow.’ Sian is from that part of the working class that the establishment would rather you not know about. And she has a talent for perspective. The poem ‘Scenarios’ imagines a man in different places, at different times: ‘You live in Kentish Town. Life is boringly average. You wake up in the morning and make your way to the local Waitrose where you sometimes see Giles Coren’s wife, and where you sometimes make polite conversation with her’. The strange, shattering conclusion lingers in the mind.
The weather is stormy but there are also moments of reflection, the elusiveness of happiness, states of grace. I will be surprised if there is a better collection published this year and I will finish with a few lines from Sian’s poem, ‘Pretty Happy People’:
So I try to imagine things
That are usefully upsetting
Like a chubby, white man in a Hawaiian shirt
In a very dark, emotional place
Or a moth, out in the daytime,
Not knowing what to do with itself
Or someone who just got Twitter
And only follows weathermen.
Then I go to sleep and dream
We’re in the garden of our friends
But it’s friends we just don’t know yet
And they’re pretty happy people.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Max Dunbar was born in London in 1981. He recently finished a full-length novel and his short fiction has appeared in various print and web journals. He is reviews editor of 3:AM.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013.