A 100 year-old museum photograph showing Antarctic explorers bizarrely dressed as black and white minstrels during “the worst journey in the world” sparked the creation of Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch’s third collection. Its second part, ‘Erratics’, is inspired by life aboard ship on the expeditions of Scott and Shackleton.
A plurality of voices are heard throughout the book, many in dramatic monologues: in the first half the reader travels all around the world, marvelling at car engines and sewers, relics and games. Poems build powerfully towards a sudden shift; the reader may be surprised and transported to unforeseen conclusions. Behind all of this one senses a bright curiosity that revels in patterns and shapes, and a playfulness regarding human behaviour that shuttles between humour and cynicism.
In ‘Erratics’, the insistent presence of peril – or death – throws this humour into even sharper relief. Like the letters found on the bodies of some of Scott’s crew (in ‘Silver Bromide’), these poems re-constructs lives while echoing their distance from us. The focus is not on the heroes or leaders, but on the cooks, photographers, doctors, artists and meteorologists that made up the surrogate family aboard ship. Their extraordinary diversions – dressing as bears, playing football on the ice, performing plays to no-one but the ship itself – reveal the fun as well as the boredom that filled the spaces in their lives.
There is plentiful detail, gathered through extensive research; but it is formed so carefully from different strands into a mosaic of life aboard ship, that delight eclipses education.
‘A magnetising collection… one long love-song, often wry, always beautiful, to the sustaining riches of the human imagination.’