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Eight Excursions by David Kennedy & Rupert Loydell
[38pp, £5.00 ,Cherry on the Top Press, 29 Vickers Road, Firth Park, Sheffield S5 6UY]


Collaborative poems risk being more fun to write than read. The novelty of particular joint ventures may come to be a de facto resting point, after which all too little happens. Neither of these is the case with Eight Excursions
. This series of eight pieces, all steeped in the theme of transit, launches a new and welcome presence: the fusion of David Kennedy and Rupert Loydell. The writers have structured their project, provided a compelling focus, and written excellently to observe and tease open the boundaries they have set.

The poems in Eight Excursions
are at once witty, taut, direct, and engaging. Sprigs of source material as various as ‘anonymous company minutes: found in the street by DK’, an email from Chris Cheek, passages from known and less well-known books, and the intriguing website, ‘Organization for the Advancement of Facial Hair’, surface in repeated contexts within a theme-and-variations motif. The source materials provide one means of locating seemingly found subjects close to a writer’s heart: solitude, place hopping, and the writing process itself. Writing and the self are permitted to be primary subjects without ìtaking over. Placed as they are within the fast-paced passages, they contribute to suspense, rare in a book of poetry. The interstices between small arrivals and the lure of what will happen paces and pulses each of the poems forward.

The eight pieces of this chapbook fit a frame of pleasure travel, possibly at reduced rates. The cover of the book is a photocopy of an actual ticket from the Sheffield Transport Dept. and Joint Omnibus Committee. Within the pages themselves, one is admonished: ‘Never judge a cover by the book.’ Each poem brilliantly reflects that travel theme, allowing in and even celebrating the ironies of shifting and growing within the chance arrangements discovered therein. Early in ‘Damage Limitation’, comes the sentence: ‘The reader / may initially find this work / too declarative and back off // in a hurry, but persistence / is rewarded with irony / and strange music in the mix.’

Rewarded, indeed. Such short, pointed lines invite immediate access, and trick the reader into deceptively painless discoveries. Self-consciousness simultaneously embraces comedy and difficult truths. The book’s intelligence would not allow wallowing in a poverty of spirit, recognizing intelligence as a means of rescue. In ‘Seasonal Changes’:

     Itís difficult in this day and age
     trying to locate Bohemia;
     not much easier finding the beach
     thatís been washed away by memory.

     I’m struggling to grow a beard
     and now wondering how to trim it,
     have travelled forward in time
     to some kind of paid employment.

One of the most engaging patterns of the book is its almost transparent rendering of travel as a metaphor for the artist’s life. The position from which a maker of poems experiences life is one of slight distanced from events one integrates. That distance flavors the potential for shaping and integrating experience from a view that is fluent in humor, large-scale perspective, and dark discovery that prevents any unduly lofty suppositions about the writing life. ‘Young people are not the answer, / though they will be in time.’

Another of the attractive features of this work is its seemingly effortless movement among surfaces, its mixing of dimensions, while offering ample evidence of the faint light between reality and fantasy. In ‘A Self-Repairing Dream’, an especially memorable sequence moves through this veil quietly:

     I started up the garden path to work
     and got chatting to the downhill neighbour.
     He decreates times, slows everything down,

     turns the days turtle: now I’m back here
     at home, snacking through the spellcheck.
     Rupert Loydell becomes Repeat Loyal,
     which becomes ‘I’m just obeying orders’

The voice of the collaborative entity is graceful and sharp, a self-aware and self-effacing comedic philosopher with a full sense of history. Reading this collection interests me, prompts me to request more and to trust in this new presence, hoping for more discovery filtered through this composite and brilliant being!

            © Sheila E. Murphy, July 2003