Nuclear Sounds

Faber New Poets 9,
Rachael Allen (17pp, Faber, £5)
Faber New Poets 10
, Will Burns (15pp, Faber, £5)
Faber New Poets 11
, Zaffar Kunial (17pp, Faber, £5)
Faber New Poets 12
, Declan Ryan (16pp, Faber, £5)

Vroom! vroom! Only twenty five and already editing Granta poetry online, Rachael Allen cruises into a cobalt blue/bone white Faber debut riding atomic waves of Sprite, sassiness and smut. Rachael's sex filled pamphlet offers a joy ride through her tweenies, teens and early twenties.

Her calling card 'Science and Math' toys with Simon Armitage's phallic Bunsen burner:

   so at the same time as clumsy
   fresh boys were fizzing hair on the Bunsen burner I Was
   debating what of mine would fill the plane-sized bra on the
The lines directly reference Huddersfield's nostalgia afflicted poet: 

   I am very bothered when I think
   of the bad things I have done in my life.
   not least that time in the chemistry lab
   when I held a pair of scissors by the blades
   and played the handles
   in the naked lilac flame of the Bunsen burner;
        (from 'Book of Matches')
Rachael Allen fizzes like a can of Vimto, she strides boldly into adult themes in a lovable, Carol Ann Duffy-esque, 'lez mizz' whizz. Her poetry resounds with the footsteps of Fiona Benson. Particularly  the very first poem in the very first pamphlet of the Faber new poet  series, 'Lares', in which Ms. Benson says a prayer 'to you, small ghost...'.

The strung-up dead bird in 'Lares' is an image Rachael Allen has grown through - it has informed her poetry. However, the fundamental key to Rachael's work is her sexuality: in other poems we find Rachael in a car with the top down admiring tits and ass [well, she would if she were Lil Wayne]. In 'Rapidshares' she enjoys spiritual awakening through the oooh ahhhs
of Gina G's D cup Euro-vision sexcess. Rachael's is a debut pamphlet laced with erotica and lustrous legs, it smells of hair gel and teen spirit but, inevitably, as with all the best young writers, there are moments when the beat is lost and the rhythm jumps overboard, leaving a few garish VPLs are left on display. Allow me to elucidate: compare:

   In my days all we did was chief out on a quarter pound
   Gone on coke, eyes are bucked,
   this here shit will knock you down

   I don't have a Mercedes childhood
   And poor Tom's a coke head,
   Where my text from Office of the Dead?
Which one is a Faber new poet? Which one is the leader of the three 6 mafia? Juicy J's lines (the former) are more authentic. Rachael at her worst, comes across as brattish and OTT. The rhyming of head with dead is lazy. My cousin in year eight can, and will, write more fluent verse. Despite these odd lapses, I'm convinced Rachael Allen has a shimmering chemical future awaiting. Hers is a beautifully blue dˇbut. Congratulations to those who found her and congratulation to her for finding herself.

In clashing colour contrast, Will Burns kicks off for the Faber team in the tangerine colours of Blackpool Town. In the opening poem 'Country' Will instantly zings his stardust filled poetry-ball straight into the back of the net:

   Some call it
   cloud country
   or lightning country.
   I have heard it called
   the nether country,
   Buck's country,
    and thieves country
His words are champagne glass clear. Clarity, as you'll know if you read my seminal [Hello Wembley!} review of the four Nine Arches titles- is something I always appreciate. When 'Country' eases its eargasm into orgasm, which filthily enough is a car boot sale in a muddy field. I get the rarest of rare feelings, as Dylan Thomas explains: 'a good poem is a contribution to reality. The world is never the same once a good poem has been added to it.' This enhancement of reality is what Will Burns achieves here, albeit momentarily.

Sadly the great heights he scales in the opening number are not sustained in the poems that follow. Instead, there is a kind of Robert Lowell style ''I can't stand the world or the walls I've built around me' mixed with manly Charlie Bukowski posturing. In 'Stretch' Mr Burns wings it with:

   Half the time I cannot
   understand the words she says.
   Roadsigns. Newspapers. Any of this
These lines are so similar to the hand of Lowell that they can never truly be Will Burns. Furthermore, I should confess a confession to the confessional poets: I am sick to death of modern poet's dependence on Robert Lowell. His moment of clarity- 'my mind's not right' in  Skunk Hour
(1959) has been ripped off by all and sundry for over half a century. It's high time someone had the balls to be more contrary and eccentric. Debts aside, it's a promising start from the poet in tangerine. Next time out I would like to see him burn.

Third on the Faber's infinite conveyor belt comes Zaffar Kunial kitted out in the green and white of the Pakistani flag. Zaffar writes a great deal about his confused sense of place. I must admit, the land he was born is a land previously uncharted by this gentle soul, it is a cultural backwater where only a few coherent voices have cohered. A land of rain drenched ugliness. A land known as Birmingham.

   Whatever it is, this talk, going back, did once have a script:
   Landa, in the reign of the Buddhists.
    ... So was Dad's speech some kind of Dogri?
         (from 'Hill Speak')
Zaffar's linguistic variances are lost, but is this loss interesting? Although 'Hill Speak' is technically accomplished, beautifully written and wise, its intellectual contents are completely predictable. The immigrant's tale has been done to death in modern poetry. I imagine that is why 'Hill Speak' came third and not first in the 2011 National Poetry tombola.

Much more beatific to me Midlands ears is his poem 'Placeholder', a melodious heaven where time and place collide with words in an inspirational melting of modern (lyrical ballads onwards) poetic history. The poem finds Zaffar deep in thought on a frozen lake:

   Those are old blades scratched of the surface of Esthwaite
   and not Windermere, as Heaney had it
   tracing the scape with a star in 'Wordsworth's skater.
This is where truth meets beauty, it is known in mathematics as the golden section. There can be no doubt that 'Placeholder' is a major poem, the sexy juxtaposition of language and poetic history reach such lofty heights as of our master, Mr. John Keats. No matter what Zaffar achieves in poetry (by all means he should achieve a lot) he can always be proud of this poem.

Finally, in sunshine yellow, into the ring steps Faber new poet 12, Declan Ryan. I enjoyed the blue (Rachael A) and the green corner (Zaffar K) of the Faber stable because the brave young poets wrote from and of themselves. Declan Ryan is not writing at the same level, this is because he is not as a) original b) entertaining c) good. Boxing references aside, tonight's not your night, Declan.

New technology and new ways of communicating have led to new ways of writing. The cream of the Facebook generation (Sam Riviere, Luke Kennard, yours truly [Excuse me?
- editor]), have all managed to swallow this change into poetry. Declan Ryan never seems confident of how to express the changing world as a part of himself. Furthermore, whilst it is good that so many young people are writing (on twitter, text, toilet seats etc.), the vast majority, including Declan Ryan),are writing badly. Only a handful of the new poets have enough skill, charm and charisma to make a lasting impression in the word game.   

The meta-point here is that the cream of the Facebook generation (two new names will be added by these pamphlets) are racing so hard and fast for poetry's golden goblets and amulets that it is pointless trying to stop them. A shimming, colourful dust is shaking all over the hills and vales of modern British poetry. Your job - dear reader - is to listen.

      © Charlie Baylis 2014