Book: Poems for Ghosts in Empty Tenement Windows I Thought I Saw Once
Author: Stephen J. Golds
Publisher: Close To The Bone (Nov 2020)
Book #1 in the First Cut series
What a rare joy and unique experience reading Poems for Ghost was for me in that EVERY. SINGLE. POEM. punched me in the stomach or hurt my heart or immersed me in nostalgia or brought long-dead feelings of mine right up to the surface again or all of the above.
It is honestly an incredible achievement by Golds to have created a book that is so consistently impactful on the reader. It felt like I’d read the entire book in one breath, and when I’d finished it the only way to describe how I felt was ‘rattled.’ For want of a better phrase, his writing made me feel all the feels.
Another admirable aspect of Poems for Ghost is Golds’ candour. The book deals with dark subjects, and I deeply appreciated the way that Golds refuses to downplay the brutality of the things in life that hurt. As someone who struggles with mental illness, I felt understood by Golds’ raw, truthful depiction of mental illness in particular – it was a relief to feel understood and Golds’ honesty made me feel less alone, which is a real lifeline for anyone who feels isolated or unheard.
The imagery throughout Poems for Ghosts is extremely effective in the way that it situates dark concepts/emotions in physically dark places. Golds expertly conjures scenes for the reader that are as dark as the reality he expresses, which adds another dimension to the reading experience as a whole. The smoky bars and empty seats, the alleys and trains and shadows and footsteps, the dank and damp and ‘night as haunted as a house of broken windows.’ It’s clever in the way that the external world exactly mirrors the internal to effectively recreate the oppressive, claustrophobic, all-encompassing atmosphere one finds themselves alone in during a deep depressive episode.
Poems for Ghosts is moody in the way of all great noir – when lockdown is over and it’s safe to do so, I shall be taking my copy of Poems for Ghosts to a moody cocktail club in a Soho basement, then I’ll order a double bourbon and sit at the bar, speaking to no one, just quietly falling apart as the beautiful women that feature in these poems break my heart. Golds has a stellar reputation in the field of noir/crime fiction which certainly translates – like, the atmosphere of the entire book is so moody it felt sinful to read these poems sitting on my kitchen floor at 8am on a Tuesday – these poems deserve to be read in a smoke-filled bar, with down-on-their-luck men slumped in corners, sad blues on the jukebox, and the wind howling at the door.
Golds covers grief, loss, love, childhood, heartbreak, isolation, betrayal, and mental illness in a no nonsense fashion – it is what it is, and it was shit – but kudos to the Brit writer, he is charming with it, self-deprecating, with sly injections of dark humour and witty details at exactly the point you think you’ll burst into tears, so you actually find yourself wearing a wry smile, chuckling to yourself like “yep, I know that feeling pal, f*cking sucks.”
It takes guts to pour oneself onto the page and Golds’ frankness is privilege to encounter. I’d like to somehow let the women in these poems know that along with breaking the hearts of men in their lives, they succeeded in breaking mine too.
Poem that stayed with me, that I couldn’t stop thinking about for days:
An Ode to The Japanese Marilyn Monroe
Other personal favourite poems:
Unbalanced / Visiting Hours / Lips / After the Procession