I’ve never been especially keen on Barraclough’s poetry. I don’t know, it just doesn’t move me at all. But it does have mainstream appeal without being especially typical of the kind of poetry that generally sells well, and I can respect that. The selection of poems here aren’t doing anything to change my mind. His rhyme works sometimes, annoys at others. ‘Fridgidaire’ is a nicely nasty lyric, with Northern-feeling scenery, a pleasing sense of time and place, and ‘Los Alamos Mon Amour’ is a lovely love poem. He’s simply not for me.
Paul Batchelor’s poetry is engagingly, frustratingly difficult. I’m still not sure quite what I make of it. ‘Secret Papers’, the most immediately accessible and linear piece, is an odd one: both pompous and lovely. Its first half is the old ‘if a tree falls in a forest’ thing. Only the scenario is, to me at least, overwrought. The trunk of an oak has been “Splayed...into a dozen knotted tongues.” No, scrap that, I like that line a lot. It’s this one (and this one only, on reflection) that makes me wince:
‘[...]would its song,
pure fire and air,
have split the ear?’
It may just be me, but I only vaguely ‘get it’ at the end. Nonetheless, there’s a muscularity crossed with a softness, tenderness, in its imagery.
‘Triage’ is the one I keep coming back to, though I honestly don’t understand it. Not in the way when I read, say, Jorie Graham – when I first read Never I was instantly connected to it, in awe of it, even if it took multiple readings, all a pleasure, to work out what the hell she was talking about. With Batchelor, so far, I feel a little bit pushed out by his density. A little bit put off. Yet still engaged, still curious.
I could spend a lot longer on his poetry, but I’d like to continue reading the rest of the book. But Batchelor is definitely one to come back to. The more one enters his work, goes along with it, the more welcoming it becomes. Though I’ll reserve judgment on whether I actually like it or not.
Bingham’s poetry, for the most part, does nothing for me. ‘The Island-designing competition’ is a perfectly lovely and perfectly bland poem about childhood, with emptily signifying vague references to politics (or maybe I’m stretching, to justify bothering to comment on a poem like this – yawn): “They stand in public squares, demanding a recount/as the President mouths his acceptance speech”. ‘The Mouths of Babes’ is more interesting, but still does nothing for me. It is a three poem sequence about the mouths of children at various stages. I’m not really the target market for this kind of thing, but I like to think that a good poem will be a good poem to anyone if it is a good poem. There are some nice lines: “your mouth is the shape/of a single, perfectly accomplished gulp”; and some awkwardly twee ones: “where bi-planes have the high blue hemisphere to themselves/and postmen crunch on broken emeralds”. Simply, weak writing.
There’s another bland lyric (I should just dismiss the bog standard bland lyrics I keep encountering as ABLs from now on. I probably won’t.) before the only of her poems worth reading: ‘De Beers’. Named after the diamond manufacturers, it is a complex poem, multi-faceted, with writing that is strong and striking. It is shocking that this was written by the same poet as the rest, and I advise anyone erring on agreeing with my bitching to read this one before dismissing her outright.
I’m starting to feel bad about disliking so many of the poets in here. Bird is, for me, boring. Her ‘funny’ poem isn’t funny, and the other two are bland enough to have been written by xyz whoever else.
I like Patrick Brandon’s face. It’s both welcoming and scowling. I can imagine a pleasing tone of haughty annoyance in his voice. As for his poetry, Roddy Lumsden probably describes it best: “strangely confident and confidently strange”. I like them a lot. They are rife with brilliant imagery: “the faded denim of a lung”, a lab coming to “with a flutter of strip lights. A room dreaming of itself”, and, in my favourite of his poems, a glitterball “scattering its hoard of coins”, a canal “lying like a pulled ribbon”, hangover a “muffled aftershock”. His writes slightly off-kilter lyric narratives, imbues the commonplace with an idiosyncratic, imagistic aura, one that surprises the reader and perfectly defamiliarises the normal. I’m not entirely sold by the poems here, but I’m pretty sure I’ll pick up one of his collections soon, and I look forward to getting to know his work better. Definitely one to look in to.
Briggs’ poetry is overtly masculine. It is full of Original Description (“sidle crabwise the sag-sad doorframe”) and lots of hard, terse syllabics, a tad reminiscent of Ted Hughes at times. He writes about leeches “bristling on his bell-end” (not Briggs’ bell-end, I must add) and of “slit-ooze/between toes”. It’s all very solid, very strong, very readable, if a bit sharp. He’s good; he has a controlled voice, one that may not break the mould but is definitely very refined. Again, though, they’re not doing anything exceptional. They’re doing masculine lyrics, doing them well, with some engaging descriptive imagery. I recommend you give him a read. But I wouldn’t rave about his work.
Poetry in Aldeburgh 2017
7 months ago