More of the Same

The Man Who Tried To Hug Clouds, Jim Bennett
As Yesterday Begins,
Les Merton
Dropping Ecstasy With The Angels, Dee Rimbaud
[each £7.99, bluechrome, PO Box 109, Portishead, Bristol BS20 7ZJ]

These three books all stem from bluechrome and when they arrived for review they were flipped through quickly as is my custom-and-practice. Immediately I became so irritated with the general presentation that they had to be laid aside in the knowledge that my review of the content would have been adversely affected by my initial reaction to the general layout; the random use of peculiar fonts with no apparent design or purpose and the scattered alleged 'artwork' or sketches which to a greater or lesser extent afflict them all, serves no purpose that I can fathom.

Do not misunderstand me; variations in fonts can be useful; to set text in separate blocks within poems for example and to differentiate 'voices'. But all of these books use totally obscure fonts for the titles of poems which, as I said, simply aggravate and distract.

Each has a ‘contents’ page but this merely refers the reader to different ‘sections’ which in turn have their own ‘contents’ listing but there is no comprehensive titles’ index in any which again, is a little annoying. Had I been browsing in a bookshop I do not think I would have purchased any of them. Take note bluechrome or, if this was by the design of the poets, take note Messrs. Bennett, Merton and Rimbaud.

To make another general point; most of the great poets wrote poems which were ‘turkeys’, most of them never seen light of day but some did; I recall Tennyson’s ‘Queen of the May’ and often imagine his 6 feet bearded figure reading it in the local pub:

    
You must wake and call me early,
     call me early, mother dear;
     For I'm to be Queen o' the May, mother,
     I'm to be Queen o' the May.

Or Wordsworth’s equally delightful gobbler in ‘The Thorn’ describing ‘The heap that’s like an infant’s grave’:

     And to the left, three yards beyond,
     You see a little muddy pond
     Of water, never dry;
     I’ve measured it from side to side:
     ‘Tis three feet long, and two feet wide.

That is how the poem appeared in Lyrical Ballads
and OK he altered the last two lines later but still; it is not something Wordsworth would be proud to be remembered by.

I wonder how many of the poems in these three anthologies, in later years, the poets would wish they had never published? So much is mundane, contrived, ill balanced in rhythm or layout, overblown with hyperbole, clichéd or simply in need of further editing. I give you a sample from each without further comment.

     ‘Counting’ by Jim Bennett:

     I used to have trouble counting
     I used my fingers and toes
     but then I discovered binary
     so now I only use my nose


     ‘Mister Stutter’ by Les Merton:

     Mister Stut Stutter
     Finds it very hard to to write
     Ha ha ha haiku


     From ‘Graphomania’ by Dee Rimbaud:

     I have sifted through
     The fine sands
     Of your refined mind
     But nothing have I found.

Jim Bennett’s The Man Who Tried To Hug Clouds is an enjoyable read. Bennett is a native of my own adopted City of Liverpool and I have heard him perform his poetry frequently, he is a talented entertainer if somewhat parochial, and the latter despite the fact that he has clearly lived an interesting life. There are some minor gems in this collection, some whole poems that tug at the heart and linger in the memory like ‘at night when the world ends’ which is beautifully constructed, delightfully open and honest and yet simple both in form and content. And others, which I have heard him perform and which, even when I am reading them aloud to myself, conjure an unstoppable smile. Poems such as ‘the car parked in your drive’ with its witty, pungent punch-line. (But after being reprinted so many times I wonder why a line therein still reads; ‘the driver was elsewhere/ and so where you’…? And the same error occurs in the poems ‘muse’ and ‘heroes’) I hope this is a bluechrome misprint or Bennett might have his lecturer’s salary recalculated. This is my favourite book of the three and, once I had gotten past the weird fonts in the titles and had forgiven him for his poem dedicated to the truly appalling Lawrence Upton I might even have bought it. However every single poem herein has been published elsewhere previously, hence, what we are asked to pay £7.99 for is more of the same... on second thoughts, before I forked out my cash, I think I would check how many of these poems I already have.

Les Merton’s As Yesterday Begins is more of a mixed bag. I have selected Merton’s work to appear in an anthology I edited recently and am aware that he is, like Bennett, widely appreciated as a performance poet. The contents of this anthology vary enormously and perhaps the poet is at his best when writing simply in a style which reminds me of Hemingway’s tightly constructed prose. ‘Fort St Elmo, Malta – 1966’ is just such a poem, it is a fascinating account of his meeting with ‘a navy man’ in which many emotions are examined but so too is the futility of war in a way that is subtly understated. And the section; ‘The Hitler Letters’ containing just two poems is again profound and though-provoking. It is mostly new poetry in this book but still some repetition and the font mixtures and sketches herein are the worst mix of the three. The poet also seems obsessed with haiku and, as in the example above, never quite seems to get it right, I think they number round about two dozen and while some work, most do not. It gets so when you turn a page and see another three line form you mutter; ‘Ahhh, more of the same.’ But in other areas Merton displays a grasp of the craft of constructing poetry that is uplifting and I probably would buy this anthology; if only for ‘Muddy Water and all that jazz’ which is a simple snapshot of an event and ‘Words’, a finely constructed poem which deflates ego in its examination of what we are all trying to do as poets; word juggling.

Dee Rimbaud’s Dropping Ecstasy With The Angels is my cup of tea. I love Rimbaud’s work… in small doses and when he steers clear of hyperbole. Indeed, four of the poems in this book appear in another anthology I selected and edited just a few months ago. A sample of Rimbaud’s tendency to not use a word when a dozen will suffice occurs early in the anthology. ‘When Angels Collide And Bang Their Heads’ is a longish poem which probably would benefit from a severe pruning (as indeed would the title). The second stanza reads thus:

     Dull as valium, each grain courses
     Its bruised passage into filaments
     Of dead skin,
     Through eczema miasma,
     Into the raw centre
     Of sense, sensitivity, sensibility:
     Crushing the embers
     Of burned out dreams
     With an eviscerated fatal finality.

Perhaps before he’d reached ‘eviscerated fatal finality.’ the Captain of Douglas Adams’ Vogan Construction Ship would have hurled Rimbaud into empty space. However the overall feeling I got from reading the book in its totality was a deep sense of satisfaction, for when he chooses to Rimbaud can encapsulate a phrase here or a stanza there that says it almost perfectly as in ‘Starbright’ where he dares to rewrite a Keatsian notion and does it surprisingly well; ‘We need nothing / And we need know nothing, / But the precious and imprecise beauty of being.’ Or this phrase from the poem ‘intoxicated’ with its warmly humerous observation; ‘The gods are sleeping in heavenly beds, / Dreaming that all is well with the world.’

Where Rimbaud triumphs is in his vision. His is the most expansive book of these three poets, the one which strives most to present something new in form, content and above all in ideas. This is the one which will inspire you if you are a poet and uplift you if you are merely a student or a reader …and I was just about to add that I would definitely purchase this anthology when I suddenly realised that it takes a page and a half to list all the other places where these poems have appeared previously!

Oh no! Once again it’s more of the same!

©  Alan Corkish 2004