Blank Clouds

Terror, Toby Martinez de las Rivas (65pp, £9.99, Faber)

In 'The Waste Land' T.S. Eliot played with a long standing notion that the written word should reflect the way people speak. This was one of the premises of modernism. Today our elaborate communicative devices have led to examples of text, sext and facebook-trolling finding their way into British poetry. Here are four tender lines from Sophie Robinson:

   I think of you urgent and weak walking beside
   billboards, missing out, flaking off in the
   silence between 2 traxx, no tender riot
   in yr geekheart

 Here's Amy Blackmore at her school prom:

   Balloons like swollen growths inhabit the orange shadow
   The guy from It is DJing -
   J20 at the bar

However none of these colloquial expression, or even the shallows of modern life, have shaken hands with Toby Martinex de las Rivas, instead, reading the Faber new poet's first collection is like walking pissed into an undergraduate lecture on Bede's Historia Ecclesiastica
. Profound ideas pass by with the serenity of blank clouds. It is a pleasant trip until the stuffy tone of the lecturer, his halitosis and mouldy jumper spread into each other, mingling into incomprehensible dissipation.

Either bravely or stupidly, TMdlR's language deliberately shuts out the temporally contemporary world. If Faber put out Terror as a collection of John Dunne's juvenilia, the Holy Spirit would not bat an eyelid. There can be no doubt that whatever John Dunne wrote at 13, although more than 500 years old, would still be worthwhile. This can help explain why TMdlRs verse is worthwhile, though written at the age of 36, the world is still spinning in the same direction.

However IÕm not impressed by Martinez reliance on obscure, antiquated words. There are numerous examples he can only have spirited away from hoary biblical scrawl found on weekend caravan crusades to Mount Sinai. 0.006% of the UK population currently read new poetry and of those eight people only one will know the meaning of 'asperities, viscera, fritillity' etc, that person is this books author.

In opposition to this verbal complexity look at the way Pablo Neruda carves a carnal heaven with simple and emotive words (even simpler in his mother tongue)
in 'Agua Sexual':
   Rolling in big solitary raindrops,
   in drops like teeth,
   in big thick drops of marmalade and blood,
   rolling in big raindrops,
   the water falls,
   like a sword in drops,
   like a tearing river of glass,
   it falls biting,
   striking the axis of symmetry, sticking to the seams of the soul,
   breaking abandoned things, drenching the dark.

Whereas Toby Martinex de las Rivas' treatment of a similar theme is completely different, in his poem 'Water':
   In the blue plastic water butt, a false night quivers
   with larvae: fear wakens in a face that ignores me for
   the sky, unsmiling, ringed by a halo the bud-headed
   branches creep into
Something clarified in her in the last days, recalling her brother's consumption, her own face held above dark& rising water: how it had been a kind of public drowning by proxy.
Here the water is murkier, but no worse and no less profound. There is a deep reflection rippling across the pool. The strength of Toby Martinez de las Rivas poetry lies nested somewhere in this deliberate obscurity, it is sword fashioned from his own mental steel. His approach to poetry is self-taught, no matter how much money Gilian Grafton may jealously believe Faber stuff into the boots of their young poets.

Though at first Toby Martnez de las Rivas word choices seem jarring and odd, they serve a purpose. They add a tension to the poetry, pushing the shallow reader away and the deeper reader into deeper rivers.

 However the fireworks come when Toby Martinez de las Rivas puts down his metaphysical pen and raises his physical pen. In 'Simonsburn' and 'Penititentail Rain' he discovers erotic love is no less holy than divine love. This sensual treatment of love is the strongest wave rushing through Terror
, it feeds a guilty desire for the flesh, and the intensity of the poetry is pushed to breaking point whenever a female form enters the fray. The black and red of the cover invoke the devil, guilt is what pushes the poey further, however because of pop culture's internet addled music video starlet pornographic excesses; his guilt comes across as noble and old fashioned.

 The collection closes with a poem without words. A sonnet with the words deleted and only the punctuation left:

,          ,     ,
,       ,       ,
,   ,             ,            ,
,           , ,
,           ,           ,
,          ,     ,
,       ,       ,
,   ,             ,            ,
,           , ,
,           ,           ,
, ,


The apostrophes dance around the empty space, there is a cadence, subtly, the realization dawns here that there is no need for language, contemporary or antiquated, there is only the calm, svelte surface of a pond, where heaven pours through the spiritual body. I doubt TMdlRs is the first poet to write a blank poem and I doubt he will be the last. I sometimes wish he would write more. I sometimes wish he would write less.

     © Charlie Baylis 2014