You gotta have faith


Faith, Martin Stannard (£8.95, 79pp, Shadowtrain)


Martin Stannard is the George Michael of poetry. Having abandoned his early partnership with the muse in WhamBamthankyoumam, a feisty stand-up pop duo, he is now a serious solo artiste (note the 'e' at the end) who divides his time between China and the UK. Rather than slapstick and stories he now offer surrealism and social critique, not least to the poetry police who caught him writing on the walls of the Poetry Society toilet last year (as you will have read about in Poetry Review's gossip column). (Still, they let him off with a sonnet.)

Having shaved his curly perm off and bought a leather jacket, Stannard stormed out of the editorial office of Exultations & Difficulties vowing never to return. And he hasn't. (Good man.) Instead he can be found tending the obscure wildlife collection at
one million elephants couldn't begin to understand, an anarchist eco-friendly gathering of one. Like many other tortured geniuses he has found solace in obscurity, pausing only to pour vitriol and scorn on those who love him. His constant Koch-ups mean that the arbiters of taste and decency are on constant Stannard-watch, moving swiftly to remove opinion and review by him from wherever they find it. Indeed, Stride is regularly purged of this kind of nonsense. (If only - ed.)

Although Stannard suggests that the reader 'Don't look at poetry as a way / Of getting a girl', it is clear that he does. The poem is called 'Love's Secret', which proves it. He also thinks poetry is letters, you know, messages, with 'dear someone-or-other' at the start of it. And out of all the 17 letters here, none are to me. Dear Martin, to use the title of another of your poems, you are an 'Idiot Bastard'. And I miss you. The best poetry may be of its time (he says that too), but is the time right for that kind of poetry? You say 'speech does not always come naturally to me' (me as in you, not me as in me) yet your poems are as natural as falling off a bike, which I can do easily. And sometimes do. Though I never write poems on my bike or about my bike.

It's this ease and familiarity with words and stuff that is really annoying to a informed reader like me. Why aren't there choruses any more? Or videos with girls hanging off your arm? (Or even hanging on your arm.) (Or just girls.) And how about some more cartoons about the president? (There's a new one, you know.) Even when Stannard lists his favourite bands - and no I don't know if he made them up or note - bang, click, whirr, there's a poem. Write a bit of biography, it's a poem. Another poem, another poem. He's a bloody natural. Or pretends to be. 'I don't want to have to wodner if this is "any good" ' you say? Well, neither do I. I'm too busy enjoying myself, although the typeface is a bit small now that I'm getting older. I don't need glasses for reading but I will do soon if this goes on.

There's a long line of smartarse poets, stretching back to caveman fires and poetry slams (trust me, I've been there), so there's a historical precedent for this stuff, if that matters. Stannard has the ability to energize creative writing students just by reading through his stuff and getting them to talk. Easiest guest lecturing I've ever seen. They still talk about him two years on. But outside the college bar, in the real world of poetry, there's loads of people flinging mud at each other, taking the piss, and being derided for it. Who cares? I'm sick of shaggy dog stories and poetic poes, too. Not that
Faith isn't readable and funny. It is. And Stannard knows it. Others know it, too. He won a prize once, you know - publication of a book. With a big publisher. Couldn't be arsed to wait three years though. Took the book elsewhere. Way to go! Support the small presses, get the stuff out there. Know your audience. Up the revolution. The shadow train's a coming, I here it close at hand. Go and get your ticket and be ready for the man. Get on board, little children, get on board...' Whooh wooh. chuffachuffachuff. (He's got me well trained. Boom boom. Geddit? trained.)

Anyway, where was I? This is lyrical, approachable, innovative stuff. I don't know how he does it, because if I did it it would be self-indulgent tosh. There's more to be found here than you first think when you pick it up. If only there was a lyric sheet included in the album and a list of all the players. What's he doing over there anyway? Surely, everyone speaks English already, they don't need him out there to teach them. Just imagine millions and millions of new Chinese poets who only know Stannard's work though? Wouldn't that be cool. Poetic clones. Indoctrinated with a new canon. Change the world, the word, from the ground up. 'No one's going anywhere yet though'. It says so, here on page... well, it was here a moment ago.

Look, I have got to go. Like I said, George Michael is the Martin Stannard of pottery. Have faith, buy this new record and help this man buy his plane fare back to Ipswich. You know it makes sense. (Is there an airport in Suffolk? No, I don't know either.) 'Everyone likes the duck better than they like us' and I can see why.

    © Rose Paradise 2009