The title poem of Lorraine Mariner’s debut volume tells the story of two young women in their twenties: one who has “acquired” a family, home and furniture, the other “who’d only ever known the fully-furnished, / the three white goods”. As both a metaphor for unrealised, misplaced aspirations and an emblem of modern life’s clutter, furniture in the broadest sense is ubiquitous in Mariner’s poems. Many specifically address such objects, intent on uncovering the social significance they embody, as in the complex staff-room politics of “Chair”, or the collapsed Ikea wardrobe of “There is nothing wrong with my sister”. Elsewhere, the cultural detritus of Littlewoods catalogues, CDs, predictive texts and London Lite newspapers grows irritatingly to litter the book with their almost programmatic contemporaneity, though frustration is usually offset by Mariner’s natural, charming and engagingly chatty free verse.
The best poems in Furniture tend to be the longest, affording Mariner room to unpick everyday subject matters in often surreal narratives. In its study of human infidelity, “Feathers” sustains an impressive (if unlikely) extended metaphor based on birding, while “My beast” brings children’s fairytale and adult reality into literal collision, the poet imagining her father’s “Volvo reversing into a beast’s carriage” while she “end[s] up at the castle as compensation”. “Assertiveness role play” treads a similar line between contemplative seriousness and wry comedy. “Thursday” is an accomplished and original perspective on terrorism, detailing in lengthy stream of consciousness the poet’s journey to work on the morning of the 2005 London bombings.
It is in the short, first-person lyrics which dominate the collection that the shortcomings of Mariner’s verse appear. Too many of her poems fail to develop their slight subject matters: in “Shop names”, a brief discussion of retail puns yields nothing beyond mild amusement; “My wedding” sacrifices a more provocative engagement with the personal implications of our digital era to throwaway, crowd-pleasing effects. At its best, Mariner’s work is sure-footed, energetic, and often strikes an original tone; at worst, it exhibits prosiness and chick-lit triviality. But the strongest poems – foremost among them the fully realised character study of “In my worst moments” – successfully combine a witty light touch with intelligent reflection.
first published in the Times Literary Supplement