Seediness, Regret and
The Authentic Touch, James
Kirkup [70pp, £7.99, bluechrome]
& the concept of zero, christopher
brooke [93pp, £7.99, Cinnamon Press]
Interesting to compare covers and titles:
James Kirkup's cover shows a sepia and purple shot of a boxer's back, in what
looks like a 'sports' club by a pub in a back-street of Bermondsey; most
striking is the brutal strip light, illuming a tattoo on the boxer's back.
There are connotations of mixing high and low art, homoeroticism (pace Genet and Morrissey) and a studied isolation. The
title suggests a search for genuine communication, which could be
The first poem, 'For Whom do I Write', reinforces this last impression:
...Is there no
I cannot give
in case there
is one -
just one - who
hears what I say,
and lets me
hear its echoes.
Almost trite, apart from that last line, which intrigues and opens things up.
Many of his poems do this, using a certain formal regularity (especially in
verse structure) and yet containing a nagging darkness and sense of
irresolution. Sometimes the language is too cliched to carry it off; for
example, using obvious phrases like 'Memory, a ship of fools...', or relying
too heavily on chiaroscuro effects of light and shade.
But many of the poems create a depressed and convincing feeling of seediness
pink-pleated accordion -
musical instrument possessing
metal reeds, keyboard &/or buttons' -
and painfully expelling
breaths is trying to impose
quavering quavers on the noise
indifferent shopping mall, while
hides his face in its embrace.
And the best work is when this skill combines with a gift for
characterisation, in poems about isolated or misunderstood intellects
(Mallarme, Nietzsche, Baudelaire) grappling with the dawning mass culture of
herd instinct and collective consciousness:
Silence in the ranks.
opened the classroom door
and the boys
that smell of
chalk dust, frying fat,
sweat, unwashed clothes,
their teacher of English.
In fact, there is a delightful sense of disgust and aesthetic aloofness in
some of the poems, which gives a curmudgeonly feeling and energy to the
writing, as if the poet can't be bothered to appear likable and have 'worthy'
opinions. I wish he did this more, in poems where he isn't wearing masks of
Christopher Brooke's cover (the use of lower case for his
name an irritation) is almost abstract, a square zero in what looks like
cement; which fits with the almost portentous title - 'concept' and 'zero'
being words with surprisingly little impact. The 'concept of zero' presumably
alludes to the introduction of zero by whichever ancient civilisation it was
- I know it's always being mentioned by Trevor Phillips to show how much the
disgraceful English people owe them. All very zeitgeist or whatever horrible
word is used.
The cover blurbs suggest 'a distinctive perspective on his experience'.
Stylistically this is true, with a mastery of fast moving poems, capturing
speech and incident from various Cardiff locations. The titles of the poems
are also a real delight: 'the circus is hiring'; 'chips in slippers'; 'stats
is stats backwards' and (my favourite) 'I want to meet a woman whose mother
knows she smokes':
superb, but you get bored
to the usual croaks
cyclists on a day
their game is:
ANY ROOM FOR
ONE MORE ON THE 'ANDLE BARS, LUV?
no doubt, hilarious...
Peter Finch's embarrassing introduction - with wild comparisons to William
Carlos Williams and Frank O'Hara, and the distasteful sense of an old hippy
learning new drug slang - correctly describe this as a poetry of velocity; although
I don't find the use of direct speech itself as interesting as Finch seems to
think, nor the prices for blowjobs in Cardiff's red-light district. It all
smacks a bit of walking on the wild side to show how 'street' you are. What
does work well is the interjection of personal asides as punctuation in the
fantastic flow - I love that 'no doubt, hilarious' or (later in the same
poem) a floating 'who knows'.
In fact, I don't think there are enough of these authorial asides. When we're
reading work which consciously features all this grime and drug detritus,
don't we need a sniff of the writer's moral perspective - including of
disgust? Sure I'm being judgemental, but only an idiot actually wants to live
around crack dealers or hookers. Of course, many people have no choice; but
let's not present that as worthy or 'real life' just because it's a fucking
I guess I'm saying that voyeurism motivates work like this. And I've nothing
against honest voyeurism, which admits it's fascinated by the horrors for
their own sake, and maybe even laughs at this nightmare.
To be fair, Brooke's doesn't glamorise or wallow in how 'real' this all is:
sort of thing you'd be
and cries of i thought
she were of
age don't mean jack
even if she is black,
she's still a
15yo kid; and you are
that the coppers got
to you before
the others did -
i know my
facts aren't always straight, but
i wouldn't be
recording this if
But personally, I think the idea of just recording this is slightly
dishonest. The real reason he's writing about it is how fascinating it is -
the horror, the horror and all that.