Over the bridge and enjoy the ride

Quite Frankly - After Petrarch
, Peter Hughes (Like This Press)
ImaginaryLovePoems, Emily Critchley (corrupt press)
Voiceover (Riverine), Rupert Loydell & Paul Sutton (Knives Forks and Spoons)

Quite Frankly - After Petrarch is Peter Hughes' latest foray into formal poetry, which embraces the past yet is also very much a part of the modern world. These mainly love poems are interpretations rather than translations and are a delight to read, filled with playful wit, striking, often unexpected imagery - 'gudgeon used as live-bait/wearing two treble hooks and wobbling', from '12', is a good example - and great energy.

Echoes of popular song lyric combine with strange dislocations to produce work which manages to convey absurdity as well as hopelessly uncontrolled emotion, melancholy as well as those unanticipated moments which take away your breath or crease you up with laughter:

     Venus throbbing at the end of the line
     formations of dented satellites
     of love amongst other things sneaking past
     surveillance drones with strike capability

     the mouse quivers in the middle of nowhere
     & nothing is as I remembered it
     for example Gordon is a Mormon
                    (from '28')

Hughes' twenty eight sonnets, 'after Petrarch', are filled with beautiful encapsulations, proving that lyric poetry isn't dead, but also including a questioning, political aspect which deals with the here and now and defends the act and practice of poetry within a culture which sees it pretty much as a dead artform, preserved in aspic, or merely an arm of the entertainment industry, which doesn't mean that Hughes ignores or despises the direct and the colloquial:

     Love has you by the balls: iron fist
     in a lacy French glove
     touched by the breeze through these windows
                    (from '3')

     & if another woman fancies me
     then she's just wasting her fancies
     because I knew for certain long ago
     that I could float nobody's boat but yours
                    (from '21')

He plays with the conventions and the literary traditions, within a modern (rather than post-modern, I'd argue) context, which focuses on love but includes war and resistance and a stubborn determination not to cave in to all the bad stuff we're constantly surrounded by:

     again the unemployed are trained to fight
     for the freedom of the wealthy to get
     richer in a relaxed environment
     in accordance with the wishes of God
                    (from ' 25')

Quite Frankly is a 'defence of poetry', which echoes Shelley and hints at Oscar Wilde, and which is as modern as it is traditional, filled with variety and wit and a playful celebration of both Petrarch and of modernism. It comes in a neat pocket-size package and is a bargain for a fiver. Fantastic.

     these days it's hard to even see the stars
     which once offered a perspective on our lives
     now anyone dedicated to poetry
     is awarded the status of freak

     you only work for poetry & love
     do it in rags in that caravan then
     & raise a glass of cold water to art

     you'll walk this road alone my friend
     you know that as well as I do
     well it's too late to turn back now
                    (from '7')

Emily Critchley has a way with the long line. '& sometimes it is hard reading poetry that is for losers anyway. In this I match / you momently, pre- / conceive nothing - everything I say I do after the fact ....' (from 'Propaedeutic'). There's a brooding, questioning aspect to her poetry, which combines a strong knowledge of literary tradition, is indeed scholarly, with colloquial interjections which are at times amusing and occasionally shocking. In 'The Glass Which is Almost 99% Clear' we get this extract:

     Because you just need time to understand the pile up? Feelings - no -
     when what in fact is to object still here between 4 walls in June feels new, but in
     a modest way. Tho maybe this is my reading around wrong. You're so hard to tell!

This is poetry which mixes high art with a more immediate 'streetwise' humour, which combines an inner monologue (the title of this selection is ImaginaryLovePoems) with a more social concern, critiquing the 'here and now' with an eye to what the future might or could be. There's a sense of argument - between lovers - which is a main theme of the collection, unsurprisingly projected from the female viewpoint, which mixes a slangy, colloquial diction with a more formal form of rhetoric and where this comes off the effect is dazzling - 'Give me that sunset over spaghetti / all yr syllogisms - I want / every part in my mouth' (from 'Dinner's Up!).  In 'Don't be Afraid The Bright New Day' she takes risks which sometimes come off and even where they don't (this is obviously arguable) the effort seems worthwhile. The opening pun made me smile and then you're swept away into the body of the text which crackles with its mixed language and speed of thought process:

     Tell me about architecture & arch
     Humour; the exterior sweeping for thirst &
     We who are in love thirst for this place &
     All it stands for. Tell me a song
     Of trees & by extension pray
     Of the heavenly kingdom to build
     Among men. Tell me that's your -
     Wait a scorched earth policy -
     What utter fire, what a fucking
     Cunt! Tell it me softly
     Softly like a bright deep
     Concern for future growth & all
     Its true manifest.   ...
                    (from 'Don't Be Afraid The Bright New Day')

Critchley's poetry seems to be forming a bridge between an academic, scholarly tradition of English poetry - utilising its formal devices and archaic echoes - with a more modern, upbeat idiom, influenced, no doubt, by her exposure to twentieth century American poetry. There are times when this feels a bit awkward - at least to me - even when the writing feels 'most sure of itself', but her experimentation and refusal to toe the traditional party line is refreshing and blatant. It will be interesting to see where her work goes from here.

Voiceover is a collaboration between poets Rupert Loydell and Paul Sutton and it's a very enjoyable read indeed. I've never managed a successful collaboration, outside of multi-montage, that is, and reading between the lines here, one of the first things I inevitably wanted to know was who contributed what. I've got some some pretty firm ideas about certain passages and a degree of 'attitude' often comes through in what I take to be Paul Sutton's writing but whatever the agreed procedures I feel this is a joint project that definitely works.

The key themes are cities and rivers, I guess and what we have here presents as a kind of 'stream of consciousness' flow which is interrupted, disrupted, repeated and reprised. There are twenty-four untitled poems, each poem taking no more than a page, although I imagine you could also read this as a continuous text. No obvious hint as to 'authorship' is given. There's an energetic thrust to much of this writing, as exemplified, perhaps in this passage from page 7:

     Only the railway to escape by! Always a woman in a large hat,
     snivelling into violets. I threw smelling salts over the bitch and
     explained lurking youths - which would she prefer? Doubtless
     Holmes was there (perhaps it was him in disguise) but I tire of the fin-
     de-siecle details and only see brown.

References to fiction are commonplace here and there's a constant sense of movement, allied to travel and aided by a conspiratorial sense of an undercover agent working in the 'glory days' of the British Empire, possibly! One of the joys of reading this work is to do with the way the reader is encouraged to fill in the gaps and produce his or her own narratives. There's a surreal, absurd, nightmare quality to a lot of this writing as well - I'm reminded of the threatening subversion of Ernst's montaged engravings - which is also very cinematic:

     Nothing is more difficult than outrunning an anorexic. Tasteless, but I
     was chased - she seemed desperate for food. A greyhound gait,
     loping, her complexities running ahead of her. 'I've already eaten,' I
     screamed - it had little effect. Now she hides in our walk-in wardrobe.
                    (page 23)

I could go on in similar vein but instead I'd urge readers to get hold of a copy of this easily manageable text and enjoy the ride. I really liked Bruce Bitmead's cover painting too.

      Steve Spence 2013