In his splendid new collection, Chris McCabe merges the
London of the Jacobean and Elizabethan stage with the here and now in
language which spits and fizzes with a dark eloquence both demotic and
high-art. The furious energy of Barry MacSweeney and Francis Bacon are
referenced here (among others) under the umbrella of the collection's curious
title, which highlights the role of the female spy and points towards the
dark recess of the police state:
dark your clowns clone tears for future downpours
Paul's Churchyard You're so dark you want
cathedral's bosom realigned phallically
on Ave Maria
Lane You're so dark your hymns bass thrum
porn and even in the May sun the City cloaked
silence was too dark to riposte
'City of London Dark Hymn')
It's McCabe's precision and his relish of language itself which makes this
collection such an enjoyable read. Consider, for example, the exactness of
imagery in the following line from 'A Human Face' - 'Swallows sail leadbolted
down wires of air', which takes you into the intimacy of a vignette which is
refreshingly strange while at the same time appearing perfectly natural and
'My Mouth is an Elizabethan' hints at Samuel Beckett in the tautness of its
a high-wire performance which is as angrily playful as it is splendidly
a night hook
to hang desires on, a dawndamp wench that o-blows, a
salivates for kiosk sallets, smooths over pickledevants,
rules of peccadilloes, hey ninny-ninnies to the night-time
wounded secrets, plays naughty nuncle to a crate of
carafe of warehouse shiraz, hurricanoes the smoke of
perpetuates the faux mistakes bookmakers pretend to
The central texts of the collection use as their starting point a number of
plays from the Elizabethan and Jacobean theatre, a practice which facilitates
great play between
the politics and mores of the respective periods and our own. Darkness is at
the heart of this collection, betrayal and violence are everywhere as is a
sort of excessive revelling in the chaos of breakdown and madness:
They will rebuild the same lines to walk
these dead concocting dictionaries
We could have this
at the door of any tavern at any time
but it's tonight in this
thirst this first
'Teenage Riot, Daydream Nation' brings in a contemporary note - 'FIRE
IN SHOPFRONT IN TOTTENHAM HALE' - while 'Subjective Knitting'
has a more lurid, theatrical glaze which reeks of dark glamour:
lace . Polemical
straps in purple
first time red .
Pinched elastic in
slippy hooks .
gauze . Latex
ribboned lengths .
in Saxon black.
to the core.
Apart from the nods to Barry MacSweeney and Tom Raworth, both in terms of
form and content, I'm also thinking Sean Bonney, Niall McDevitt and Andrew
Jordan here, as more fully contemporary British poets who deal with the
subjects of place and politics in an adventurous and experimental manner.
McCabe's exploration of the nooks and crannies of London also owe something
to Iain Sinclair, of course but there's an eloquent rawness to his work which
somehow combines precision with an emotional directness which is unusual and
full of impact.