Bryan R. Monte – Summer 2023 (AQ37) Book Review
Bob Ward, In and Out of Doors, Meniscus Publications, Holt, Norfolk, UK, 2023, 29 pages (available from email@example.com).
In and Out of Doors, by poet and photographer, Bob Ward, is a pamphlet of poetry and photos of doors and their importance as related to their physical, metaphorical, and even metaphysical associations. It is a collection of nineteen, short, rhythmic and sometimes rhyming poems inspired by doors. They include the doors of houses, occupied and abandoned, gardens, a clock repair shop and a prison, and even a door in a mountain passage way that leads to another country. Interspersed with these poems about various types of doors are six photos of doors or doorways, which relate directly to the poems on the facing pages.
In and Out of Doors has two epigraphs. The first, ‘Lift yourselves up, you everlasting doors / that the king of glory may come in’, is from Psalm 24:7. It refers to the return of the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. The second, ‘Knock, knock, knock. Who’s there, i’ th’ name of Beelzubub?’, is from Macbeth Act 2 scene 3. It compares Inverness Castle’s door (with all its bloodshed within) to Hell’s gate. They both portend that this slim pamphlet will contain a weighty exploration of doors. On the facing page of this dedication is a close up photograph of an old style latch handle and keyhole, which also shows the beautiful vertical grain of the door’s wood.
In and Out of Doors’s poetic narrative follows, with just two possible exceptions, the human arc of development from before birth, birth, childhood, (young) adult experiences of sensuality to later adult experiences of ageing and holding on, to the eventual surrender to death and a possible afterlife. The first poem, ‘Asleep’, occurs before birth. In it, the book’s speaker chooses the ‘nearby door ajar’ , even though some hinted it, ‘would lead to death.’ However, ‘passing through / to this world I became awake.’ The photo on the facing page of this poem is of an electrical mains box at the base of a tree trunk. The box is behind a little house with a roof, a door, and a lock, suggestive of an entrance to some Alice in Wonderland underworld.
The poem, ‘Birth’, follows naturally. In it the child-age narrator is greeted at his own front door by a new housekeeper, hired in his absence, with the existential question ‘Who are you?’ A photo on the facing page features a traditional urban rowhouse, perhaps similar to the one described in ‘Birth’. Another childhood experience is ‘MR Vincent’, about a clockmaker, to whose shop the speaker goes to get the family ‘Westminster chiming clock’ repaired after it was damaged by a nearby ‘fly-bomb’ (V1 rocket). ‘An abrupt jangly bell’ announces the boy’s entrance. But even though the Mr Vincent can repair clocks, the narrator still observes astutely that ‘time / kept slipping through his fingers.’
The next poem, ‘Doorways: for Robert Palethorpe’, features a facing page photo of a garden door ‘overgrown with ivy / paint flaking, signs of rot’ exactly as described in the accompanying poem.
Next, ‘Zugspitze’, tells the story of a mountain ‘gifted by the Emperor / to his neighbour going short / of elevated land.’ (A longer, prose version of this story, entitled ‘Frontier’, was originally published in AQ26 at https://www.amsterdamquarterly.nl/aq_issues/aq26-borderlands/bob-ward-frontiers/ ). At the end of an ‘ice-glazed tunnel / hewn through solid rock’ the tourists encounter ‘ a pale blue wooden door’ that leads to another country, ‘No passports; no guards / controlling entry.’
Other poems describe experiences such as finding just a door in an alleyway with a £5 for sale sign attached to it in ‘Back Yard Sale’, an abandoned house in a poem of the same name, at the edge of village, which begs the question why the house is standing empty ‘where homeless families hold no key to life.’ ‘Letterbox’ is a quatrain about a ‘neurotic dog … that tears your post apart.’ after it’s dropped through the door’s mail slot.
The book’s second section begins with only one of the two characters, the one on the left side of the page, which previously appeared paired on the book’s title page. Perhaps this is to indicate that we are now inside something, while previously, the poetic scenes were set on the outside. This begins with the poem ‘That Woman’. Here Ward pairs the common metaphor of the key to one’s heart with the image of the door to create cautionary tale. A woman has given the key to her heart to the wrong man, who
…turned the lock,
threw back the door,
and trampled in.
He also takes they key with him so that other men can enter her house/room without needed to use one so that
…new men step inside
without so much as flicking
ash off their cigarettes.
This poem is somewhat of a noir piece, from a different time, hopefully, for most women in the Western world, or perhaps not, and certainly not for women in the non-Western world. Other poems in this section include those about ghosts ‘unable / to pass through walls / erected for security, in ‘Frayed Agenda’, a breakfast of ‘two rashers / nestling together warmly / with one field mushroom / acting as a pillow, / and a half tomato (grilled)’ announced by a kitchen door thump in ‘Cuisine’, and a pirate, who goes to a ‘Paint flaking … castle door’ behind which a ‘guarded woman’ is kept in ‘Bluebeard’.
In ‘HMP: Drawing Keys’ Ward masterfully describes a prison’s oppressive atmosphere in his very first verse:
Like freedom’s death-rattle
key clatter down a chute
so you can minister to shuttered lives.’
Ward describes how the guards ‘clip the bunch (of keys) to a thick / black tightly buckled belt.’ to prevent a ‘snatch’ or a ‘scan (of the) uncovered keys / to copy with a make-shift file,’. It’s no doubt that this heightened awareness of the guards’ surveillance for their safety and of punishing effects detention is based on Ward’s years as a prison chaplain. In addition, these lines describe especially well Ward’s poetic style composed of short, simple lines reinforced with alliteration that strings the images together, similar to a set of keys on a ring.
This second section continues with ‘Open Up’. It’s about ‘Pulling back the door of an old wardrobe’ that contains a winter ‘garment I no longer wear, / the zip has broken teeth, it will not hold.’ introducing the theme of decay, which is also touched on in several poems thereafter. In ‘Phlebotomy Department’, for example, the speaker is let in with an
from the clinic door
that summons the next in line
to pass to the other side.
as if the blood work done here will determine life and death itself—which it may. Another poem ‘Entrances’ is about sliding, automatic, institutional or business doors which sometimes don’t recognize those who want to enter before they smash into them, a constant bane or my existence as a wheelchair user. Below this photo is storefront with the lettering ‘Dinosaur service centre’, perhaps a joke about how some younger people view older people who still patronise brick and mortar stores.
Next follows ‘Entering’, which seems to me to be more about crossing into a metaphysical space rather than a physical one. ‘Entering’, ‘Letterbox’, ‘HMP: Drawing Keys’ and the terminal poem, ‘A Light Matter’, are the only poems in this collection that don’t explicitly mention a door or doors. (However, it is clearly implied in ‘Letterbox’ that the poet is describing a door’s mail slot and in ‘HMP: Drawing Keys’, that keys are used to open and shut cell and security doors). ‘Entering’ instead of discussing doors, discusses doubt and temptation. It describes a place or situation where ‘faith draws you blindly / under tension / like the strings / you pluck for music.’ However this advice comes ‘at your back’ and from ‘wooden ears’ with the poem’s terminal line of advice ‘choose not to follow.’
‘Holding On’ is about preparing for death. The speaker mentions that he’s older:
than my kin gone before
these are my bonus days
until I’m faced by the door
to the one-way passage.
In the meantime, the speaker says, ‘I maintain my grip until / at last, (I) will let it slip.’ On the facing page is a photograph of an entrance to a stone structure without a door, perhaps representing a tomb. Here, the black and white photography brings out the architectural stones grain and weight.
The last poem of In and Out of Doors, ‘A Light Matter’, takes place ‘At the entrance / to a Black Hole.’ Inside this place, the poet imagines, perhaps in the vein of the traditional Christian-held belief of the hereafter, that it is not just ‘darkness’ but ‘light upon light / upon light… / and angels dancing/ quantum quadrilles.’ (I’d also like to note that some theoretical physicists think that the matter that these black holes ingest, which isn’t release in gamma or other radiation, might be released into another universe to continue the process of creation there.)
Bob Ward has certainly packed a lot into his little pamphlet, In and Out of Doors. I can wholeheartedly recommend it to AQ’s readers. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. AQ