By David Bateman
Reviewed by Arthur Adlen
As a child I had a stammer. The Old English word stamerian meant to stumble, and I often felt I was stumbling over myself trying to say something. My dad used to say it was because my mouth couldn’t keep up with my brain, which I thought was a gentle way of putting it. Stammering and stuttering are one and the same thing, so I was certainly able to identify with David Bateman’s new book, Shtum the Stuttering Poems.
David had a severe stutter when he was younger, only overcoming it after speech therapy in 1980, although he does still have a slight stutter. He is therefore well placed to describe this condition, and his latest offering is a collection of poems and prose that cannot fail to move the reader. He explores all the mechanical difficulties with stammering, as well as the emotional suffering, the bullying it attracts, and the struggle to cope day to day.
The title poem’s second verse tells us:
Something gruesome has occurred
to each once well-meaning word.
Its start has come apart,
and its ending can’t be heard.
In the prose piece, my official timed record for longest single-word stutter, David describes an incident that is written with humour borne of stoicism. That combination runs right through the book, reflecting what I suppose is the only way to cope.
What you could get for tenpence is, for me, another highlight where we are told how it is helpful having the exact fare ready for the bus driver in order to avoid public embarrassment.
For all that, the last poem, In praise of the human voice says it all:
The human mouth can make the words
That speak out from the soul.
For stating complex concepts,
It’s our most important hole.
It’s good to have a collection that has a strong theme, is written from personal experience, and is well crafted.
Plus, we are given some useful information from The British Stammering Association.