“Twenty (including double word score)”. Now that’s a title for a poem. You can gather in the flavour of the poem just from those five words; the style, the playfulness of the language, the Britishness at the heart of what is to follow. It’s Scrabble. It’s going to have restraint, it’s going to have self awareness, and intelligence in there too. That’s what Scrabble is. The poem builds as a game would, word by word, each one placed with care and each one chosen for impact and weight. It’s a poem about a courtship, developing through the game. It’s a poem about a hopeful courtship – not a sprint to the bedroom after a quick dash through backgammon or snakes and ladders, but a slow progression that might go well, or it might not. It finishes –
“There are half smiles/quarter glances, stray hands/ almost a touch on a glass. Then gently, but firmly/ on the o of her ovules/ he lays throb, leans close/ breathes – It could have been broth”
Delicate, playful, cautious, shy. When I first found this poem, it made me smile, and I found the name of the author, and I went out to find out more, and I found that there wasn’t much more. Andrew Waterhouse, a northern poet with just two collections to his name, who committed suicide in 2001, aged 42. He lived in the north east, taught in Morpeth, and is another of the inspirations behind my writing. There is bleakness in his poetry, yes, and despair. The second compilation, 2nd, was unfinished, and published after his death, and this gives a sense of abruptness. The two books together are slender. But still, I found that his voice was closer to how I wanted to express myself than the great American ramble of Bukowski or the cultured 60’s style of Larkin, or the clever intricacy of Heaney. I could never really write like any of them, they are fantasy voices to me, of other worlds, different lives. Waterhouse was a northern poet, a modern voice, a voice that seemed more familiar to me.
Throughout his work, you find honesty and pain. In his first compilation, In, the title poem expands, in nine parts, an experience of mental health care. There is self harm in part 8 (Window) – “One the window; a flower smeared/ and four nurses come running./ He’d tried to break the glass/ with his face or his face/ with the glass.” There is admission in part 2 (Cup) – “They nodded when I spoke,/ because I was polite and being wise,/then took my belt and laces./ They made me welcome.” It is sometimes difficult, but there is that humour and intelligence that draws you in, and you read on, hoping for a happy ending.
There was an ending, for sure. And closer than perhaps seems fair. He has three poems in the Being Alive collection, so you can check him out there, but I’d recommend finding the two books mentioned above. Enjoy the work that he did do, rather than contemplate on the work that he could have done.
You can read more about Andrew, his life and his poems on the three links below: