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Squirrels in Sunderland

Northumberland-based publisher Red Squirrel Press is one of our liveliest clients – it takes a special sort of energy to launch a poetry collection with three separate events in ten days, and still be prepared to launch not only a novel but a whole crime fiction imprint the following week! All this without sacrificing quality: Valerie Laws is a tremendous poet, and I’m looking forward to the launch of her fiction debut, The Rotting Spot, next week, but that shouldn’t overshadow another fine book, Alistair Robinson’s first collection, Stereograms of the Dead.

So last Thursday we ventured into Sunderland’s Bridges Shopping Centre for the last of Alistair’s three launches. Contrary to what people from Newcastle will tell you, there are many good things about Sunderland, but The Bridges isn’t one of them. Perhaps, in hindsight, we chose the wrong place to park: it should have been conveniently close to the bookshop, but it meant that on our way to the event we had to find our way out of a department store with no sign-posted exit, and on our way back, after the shops were shut, we had to trace a wide circle out of the shopping center and in again, up the stairs and down again. Waterstones was a haven of life, and warmth – and books – among the dark shuttered shops, and the coffee bar upstairs would be the perfect intimate venue, if it weren’t for the loud humming of the fridge.

Poetry triumphed over all these obstacles, though, and an appreciative audience of friends and family, students and fellow-poets, not to mention Cornwell Internet, enjoyed a lively tour (with props) of some of Alistair Robinson’s recurring themes. Vinyl LPs were brandished for the benefit of the younger members of the audience, who might not otherwise have grasped that the ‘stereograms of the dead’ are the stacks of records encountered in charity shops, the residue of house clearances.

This image from the poem The World of Mantovani is typical of what most appeals to me in Alistair Robinson’s poetry: it’s funny and clever and reflective, all of them in turn and sometimes all at once. He’s observant, too, and brings his observations to life – almost literally, in Polystyrene, in which the fragments of packaging caught in the wind become a flock of tiny creatures exploring the street, or Sand Shoes, which begins with a pun but carries on to justify it. Life’s Little Indignities is a photograph, something funny glimpsed, recorded and shared. (No, I won’t give away what – read the book!)

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