Stride Magazine - www.stridemagazine.co.uk

The Museum of Light by Rupert Loydell
[Arc, 64pp, £6.95]

Loydell’s follow-up to his The Museum of Improvisation
is not so much a series of poems as two long sequences (‘Background Noise’ and ‘Instructions for the Journey’) interspersed with other poems. The philosophical nature of the work, as suggested by the epigraph from Hélène Cixous, is present throughout. ‘Wonders of Animal Life’ muses:

     We are apt to forget
     force of habit has made us.
     How then does the snake crawl?

The poem concludes:

     We must shift with the current.
     Intensive effort always produces
     structural changes and little power.

The pertinently titled ‘Background Noise’, which occupies almost half of this volume, addresses Loydell’s bugbears: a presiding conformist mentality, the pervasiveness of capitalism, and a general lack of ambition. At times, the loosely linked tercets are striking, reminiscent of Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell
:

     The elephants of oppression are always pedants;
     it is not language they love, it is the sound of freedom
     at four hundred knots per hour, a hundred feet above.

Predominantly, however, the poem seems to replicate the conditions it rails against. The best example of this is from the poem ‘Instructions for the Journey’ in which an apparent diary jotting reads: ‘Maybe I am just tired, / but I find hardcore drum’n’bass unlistenable.’ The style of ‘Background Noise’ is the equivalent of the Lloyds Building, a collage of personal and philosophical thoughts, its piped and infrastructures brought to the forefront. Thoughts surface in a flood of free verse whose statements compete with each other for attention; but with so much background noise to wade through in adverts, television and radio, a reader might feel justified in asking for new work rather than the account of an artist trying to function in the culture.

The declamatory nature, hinted at in the title ‘Final Instructions for the Journey’, is in the main unalleviated by the other pieces in this volume.  Besides philosophical musing, there is little in-depth exploration of ideas, Loydell instead preferring to state his case. However intended, lines like ‘Produce an inventive Postmodern recombination of Modernist components’ (‘Instructions for the Journey’) distance the reader. Similarly, the books listed at the back as ‘sources’ do not appear to have been sufficiently digested or reformulates: ‘eliminate social problems. Wipe away centuries of class division, / inserting a layer of ironic distance’. Loydell neither personalizes nor engages in such sections, and the rants against popular culture make him seem self-righteous. The omnipresence of his speaker can also be oppressive, as he seems to forget the potency of poetry lies in showing more than telling. Consider the superfluous second line in ‘Background Noise 2’:

     I am reinventing hermeticism for myself.
     I loathe all popular culture,
     like to think of myself as a gardener
     as a voice once again overtakes the wind.

‘Background Noise 4’ describes his writing predicament:

     two strategies become most apparent:
     climb the tree and whistle like a nightingale
     or leave the audience out in the cold.

It is when his writing becomes more concrete that it gains focus: ‘I have it figured / on crease-eyed paper’. In ‘Polaroid Epiphanies’ his shifts from the oblique to the specific bring the text alive. A section about graffiti artists give the reader an imaginative entrance: ‘Spraycan bandits on silent wings’, ‘the abiding question: how to disfigure the world’. Likewise, a section in ‘Background Noise 4’ beginning ‘The owner of the nightclub spelt it out:’ leans towards parable and provides an imaginative entrance.

There is an integrity to Loydell’s writing here. Although occasionally didactic, the intellectual motivation is ambitious. The concern in ‘Background Noise 2’ with creation and shaping the ‘enormous amount of trash in the room’ is exciting and convincing in its aspiration. It does more, more economically, than detailing or listing that ‘trash’ item by item, an approach taken too often. When the lyric appears against the turbulent background he has built up, it is striking: ‘it may surprise you but my work is full of love’ he writes. The quotation speaks for Loydell himself. When he escapes the shackle of his sources and his concern with his immediate predicament, he demonstrates what he is capable of.


              © Matt Bryden 2003