IN THE HEART OF MODERNITY

 
BORROWED
by Andrea Holland, 26pp, £3.00; FLAGEOLETS AT THE BAZAAR by Judith Lal, 31pp, £3.00; 19TH CENTURY BLUES by Patrick McGuinness, 27pp, £3.00; STRING by Diana Syder, 64pp, £7.95. All titles published by Smith/Doorstep Books
 

So, here I am in the heart of modernity; thus, Andrea Holland (from her poem 'Calefaction'): 'I kissed the plumber today. a smasheroo...'; Judith Lal (from 'The World's Oldest Pudding'): 'Birds announce that the / milkman is coming...'; Patrick McGuinness (from 'The Clamour'): '...I hear the cries / (they're mine) at the foot of the stair / the end of a supermarket aisle...'; and Diana Syder (from 'Microchip'): 'A low power Viterbi processor chip / is blown up to a metre square on the corridor wall...'
 
Which is not to denigrate these various verbal niceties, simply to murmur that such dexterity does not make a poem, just as note-perfect piano players are not inevitably able to become fully-rounded pianists.
 
Nevertheless, there are, of course, moments. Andrea Holland's longish poem of immaculate elusiveness, 'Solitude (The Library Book)' memorably suggests: 'The curiosity of a stray dog is like quicksand: don't stand still / for too long, take a good look around. Eyes button black, / black as two ellipses, something left out of the line on a page.'
 
Judith Lal's India (amid lines feeling like the Cotswold/East Anglian countryside) recalls the sorts of visions revered by W B Yeats (from 'The Butterfly Tree'): ‘So hot, salt finds a way to the surface / of skin and in The Great Wood / the wind is a snake in the canopy.'
 
Regardless of Patrick McGuinness's penchant for European poets (he has two poems 'after Rilke', one 'after Baudelaire', one 'after Dotremont’ - a Belgium poet - and I wondered in passing why he felt obliged to publish his rendition of Rimbaud's sonnet on vowels, certainly to no greater purpose than the translations that already exist) anyway, regardless of this tendency, his poem 'Lists' is a moving , traditional poem about death through illness: '...how easily he let it go, his life of graft and grudging drudgery, the days racked // on his mind's prison wall, tomorrow / and tomorrow and tomorrow...// 
but that last day there was only one. / Then nothing. None.'
 
I am fairly certain that the science-poet Diana Syder would not feel the need to be comforted by my own experience when, a few years ago, I wrote a long didactic poem 'Equations of Eternity', which was full of proud and learned esotericism; at least I thought so, as possibly Ms Syder does of her own work, until I realised that Primo Levi's 'The Periodic Table', for example, had accomplished more for the juxtaposition of science and feelings than certainly I had managed and I thought and think perhaps the experimental Ms Syder too.
 
Consequently, I found refuge in her 'Electricity Comes to Macclesfield', which, apart from anything else, exactly conjures up the human sensibleness of Macclesfield as I remembered it to be:
 
'The bulb lasted 3 or 4 seconds then blew / while the crowd still held its breath. //  Some said isn't science wonderful. /  Some said it was moonshine. /  Others couldn't see what it had to do /  at all with milking cows, weaving silk, /  paying the rent, or praying.'
 
      © Geoffrey Godbert 2007