Saturday 20 January 2024

Review by Gary Day of "Balloons and Stripey Trousers" by Rennie Parker


Anyone who has ever worked in a corporate environment would do well to keep a copy of Balloons and Stripey Trousers in their desk draw. It could very well save their sanity. Despite being an almost autobiographical cri de couer, this volume proclaims, to all who feel their souls withering in the arid air of office culture, ‘you are not alone.’

The theme of quiet desperation is apparent from the outset with the speaker proclaiming, in ‘a warning to the curious,’ that she ‘is growing smaller and smaller as your version of me grows larger.’ Another trait that is apparent in the opening poem is the frequent nod to other writers, in this case Wordsworth and Lawrence, both of whom were appalled, in their different ways, by the plight of the self in industrial society. Judging from these poems, its condition has only got worse. At work people are expected to submit to ‘the tickbox of their little existence’ and at home they break down with terrible consequences as hinted at in ‘brand new management despair expression.’  

Parker knows that art is not going to save us but it has its little victories. Several poems show supervisors and interview panels patronising, belittling and disparaging the speaker. Her gender and class are both factors in this treatment though neither are foregrounded. The tables are turned in the poem ‘the international collective of artists say no’ where retiring managers are told, with barely suppressed glee, that they do not meet the criteria to take up painting or poetry and that ‘their rejection’ along with their ‘P45 is in the post.’

The various literary and pictorial allusions give the poems a pleasing depth and resonance. The writing itself is witty, vivid and bright. A pleasure to read.   

About the reviewer
Gary Day is a retired English lecturer and the author of several critical works including Literary Criticism: A New History and The Story of Drama. His debut poetry collection, The Glass Roof Falls as Rain, published by Holland Press, is due out in February.

You can read more about Balloons and Stripey Trousers by Rennie Parker on Creative Writing at Leicester here

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