Something Like Breathless

Relating to the idea of blue, David H W Grubb, (129pp, Shearsman)
, Rupert M Loydell, (78pp, Shearsman)

When at first I was reading David Grubb's poems I was thinking how fast they are, something like breathless. When I returned to them some days later I thought how slowly and steadily they move, with calm breaths. Visually in size and shape they are not uniform, though he likes long lines.

There seems to be necessity, not in itself an assurance of a rewarding read, but a significant factor, a good sign. The poems open themselves fast or slow in pleasing and unexpected ways. This is one mode,

     I was nevertheless writing this late in the early
     when the buttons were off and trash talk began
     and there was again this dispute about just what
     was who and did grass matter and whoever it was

and so on for another thirteen lines ('Shockbox, Ballyhoo and Grass Blowing'). Not my favourite mood of his, but it does tell me I need to  mention fun
. A serious business, fun, to go to this trouble for it, with it, and the poem comes to a sober conclusion that 'the only/ thing you remember for ever is the smell of grass.'

His several Saint Francis poems bring something strange and beautiful to thoughts of that oft-clichˇd saint, and there is a poem, 'The colours of music', that is profound in its perceptions of children:

     Sometimes our children dream so hard
     they find other lives in tangled light
     and suddenly wake up to love us again;

and so on for five more warming and uncommonly common stanzas. Such poems, in which as a reader I discover what I didn't know I knew, and am glad I do now, are special. Easy to find others here, amongst them, 'What are the dead for?' and 'Looking after my father.'

I wonder whether first of all
life suggests poetry to us or poetry from wherever it comes enriches life:

     The door to the house belongs to the garden,
     the garden belongs to the stone wall,
     the stone wall belongs to the hill

and so on ('Stealing thunder', half a page long) derives from, embarks upon, discovers in the making, a whole way of being, of perceiving. Perhaps running through both of these books is a continuation and developing inwards and outwards of childhood, responsive now to the poets' own children.

Rupert Loydell is no less empathetic while more chatty. One assumes his poems are made to go into print, while also we are overhearing, we are drawn into a talking-to-himself, into the poems' wondering aloud, of the moment. Obsessional even with Loydell's 'Animals Are Not Your Friends', twenty-two of these poems so titled planted like stinging nettles along a track.

     Animals are not your friends. Look how
     they hide away when you're near, all they want
     is their food. There is a strangeness about them,
     a dark and wilful energy even when they're tame.
     I am quite a different beast.

     "It's either me or the drums!"

Some irony here, possibly, and (whether he sees it like that or not) a bold experiment in playing on the prevailing voices at home and in poems. The second and fourth (last) stanzas of all these poems are of this kind, with a single line adrift from them, a voice, as the line here.

These poems are amid others that are speculative, there's an 'at home' and a 'bothered by other things' about the whole book; it plays without quite saying so on wondering where poems belong in a busy life, so that on pages 66-7 one is presented with this, called 'Trust me', as if wanting someone to tell,
     The audio visual equipment isn't working again;
     this morning's lecture was short and off the point.
     A man on nobody's staff list was using the room
     for interviews, despite my prior booking. Work

and so on, collaring on the way Dylan, Ginsberg, T S Eliot, Iain Sinclair
and Tolkien. I happen to know, to my chagrin, that this apparently free-flowing structured style of poem is hard to write. I might add sometimes hard to read, but it is alive here towards the larger picture of what's poem-real.

One doesn't have to be heavy to be serious is what the book tells me. It has an overall shape, too, not heavily emphasised but an emotional journey that becomes apparent along the way and towards its end, so that the opening poem, 'Departure', and the last one, 'Arrival', carry a tension of holding on and letting go. The final pages have his students leaving ('Last Day of Term'), two more 'Animals Are Not Your Friends' that are in a struggle between elegiac and staying calm, between maintaining the detached voice while seeming to envy the animals' 'collecting food for winter/ and thinking about sleep', until on the final page with the final lines there is a letting go deferred 'as I wait for an ending to emerge.'
There is more 'I' in Loydell, more in Grubb of the speculative surreal. Both are good storytellers starting from where they are, Loydell holds his breath for a shorter time, Grubb takes deeper breaths and enters sometimes the longer race. The latter's longish 'The Meaning of Light' over three laps holds its tension (neither poet here comes to easy narrative conclusions), and I query only the way in which the sequence slides from shorter to longer lines towards steadying itself at long ones. 

As he wanted it, perhaps. My own experience, perhaps especially typing on to the screen, is that it is sometimes hard to hold a line: this drift is familiar. And not pleasing on the eye. Perhaps intentionally.

Anyway, it's a relative quibble, for, while neither Grubb nor Loydell use end-rhyme, what is evident is a consistent pleasure and craft in making - and so now in reading them. There is much more here than a brief review can take in: two good additions to Shearman's list.

     © David Hart 2011