Ann Summers had nothing on our neighbour’s washing line. All the usual flimsy suspects were pegged up flaccid in a breezeless criminal line-up, a celestial conjunction of lingerie that betokened a professional intent. ‘She’s a prostitute,’ whispered my wife. Admittedly, she drove an Audi TT but, beyond the front door, in our naff mews of cheap town houses, was a kids’ playground and a panoply of stay at home mums. The pursuit of the oldest profession here was, surely, impossible? Yet the regular lugging of heavy camera equipment into a small suburban address and the chattering of the neighbours said that she was indeed a prostitute. However, the police were only ever called by her – when our feckless friends parked in front of her garage.
In The pair of scissors that could cut anything, Luke Samuel Yates’s vision of suburbia is at one both hilarious and hellish. In the opening poem, An Impeccable Risotto, Yates’s sentences unfold with unsettling comic timing: ”Don’t go out on a night like this alone’ / she begged him in her pants, / the giant spotlights / they’d installed that summer / casting dramatic shadows / under her eyes and breasts’. Like a striptease, details of undress and physicality are revealed by degrees, making the reader wonder who would opt to brave the dark alone in the face of such enticements. There’s something odd about the giant spotlights too. A security light throws its beam far and wide, whereas a spotlight’s beam is narrow and intense, suggesting narcissism. It’s human nature to twitch the net curtains when the neighbours aren’t looking, so perhaps it’s honest to light the decking like a theatre and have done with it. In the second stanza, we learn that ‘they were nervous that the pyromaniacs / who had done for the east side of the conifer hedge / three weeks last Sunday might have returned / to the scene of the crime.’ Yates’ sentence construction is glorious, as the ‘east side’ reference conjures up Los Angeles’ gang culture, or the murders of The Notorious B.I.G. and 2Pac Shakur before the ‘conifer hedge’ pops the bubble with its comic comparison. That the pyromaniacs did for the hedge ‘three weeks last Sunday’ evokes the obsessive, impotent anger of suburban hell. Nothing is said, but everything is observed and counted. Yates speaks of straitened times, and negative equity, as the couple are trapped: ‘Peter lost his job / because there was a recession / caused by nonchalance / and the trees dropped their leaves, seemingly outraged.’ Recession or not, the active verb ‘lost’ makes Peter feel judged (we know it was his fault) and the concealed indifference of the trees speaks of the street’s silent judgement.
In Exit, Yates’ gaze travels towards the metropolitan vortex and ‘The room is empty apart from the plants, the people and all of the furniture.’ Again, Yates’ trademark exploitation of the drama of the sentence comments on the ethics of a place of business that places the rhetorical weight on the furniture, and not on the people. An exit, one would assume, would offer an escape from this dystopia but, instead, ‘The tube station’s a plug hole at this time of day, / whisking people down and in and around (they cling / to their oars in their own extended metaphors), / tossing others out in a rolling boil of momentum and newspapers // into the grid of the city / and the grind of its engine’. The stanza evokes Eliot’s ‘The Waste Land’, as the city’s human effluent evokes the commuters on London Bridge, ‘so many, / I had not thought death had undone so many.’ The alliteration and consonance of grid and grind render the city’s angles and lines merciless.
In The pair of scissors that could cut anything, Luke Samuel Yates offers us a cold, disturbing vision of suburbia in the grip of recession and acutely conscious of possessions and property. After a couple of poems, you realise that apparently banal sentences unfold with limitless, surreal possibilities, and it’s this that captures the nation’s bland, beige housing estates so well. If you twitch those net curtains, then you have to be prepared to see anything.