Modern Life is Rubbish

Eidolon, Sandeep Parmar (72pp, .8.95, Shearsman)
It Looks Like an Island but Sails Away, Ralph Hawkins (120pp, 9.95, Shearsman)
Update, Dennis O'Driscoll (63pp, 9.95, Anvil)
Burn, Andrew Bagoo (70pp, 8.95, Shearsman)

'Poetry makes nothing happen' wrote Auden. Good. I'm glad. As far as I concerned, too many things happen. Whether it's your local council obsessively sending voting registration forms or Lindsey Lohan falling out of a taxi, there is simply too much going on, at all hours, and the majority of it is rubbish. Poetry is an escape from the hullabaloo, it is a chance for calm. As Roberto Bolaño wrote in 2666 'only poetry isn't shit'. So, if Auden is to be believed, here are four new titles that, fortunately, wont lead to anything happening.

In Eidolon
Sandeep Parmar grabs Greek mythology's Helen and chucks her into the chaos of the present day California. Her reference points are Whitman's Eidolons. H.D.'s Helen in Egypt and Euripides' tragedies Helen and The Trojan Woman. The modern setting allows for interesting juxtapositions of the ancient world and where we are now; Helen sits in the audience for a talk show: 'Today's Topic: 'So your husband sacrificed your only daughter that he might win the war for his brother's wife''. Helen seems lost in her new world, speaking on the phone, seeing a psychoanalyst, searching for an existence that has evaporated and been replaced by the latest iphone.

On the whole Eidolon
is a success, Sandeep Parmar is a very nuanced, highly skilled poet. Her words are sparse, delicate and heavily H.D. filtered. Lines like 'Light apple of gold          in the grass             inedible in its beauty' spring straight from the imagist collection of springs. The arrangement of the poems is visually appealing. However the narrative of the Helen myth gets lost in its relaying, is the content autobiographical? Is the story of Helen meant to be this distant? Nevertheless this is an assured and interesting outing, from a writer destined to achieve wonderful things.

Although, as mentioned above, poetry does not make anything happen, a great deal can happen within poetry. Ralph Hawkins' It Looks Like an Island but Sails Away is sprightly and full of bounce, it moves quickly from scene to scene, whirling with kaleidoscopic images, constantly inventing and re-inventing itself. The work is deeply New York School influenced in its petite surrealisms and flights of fancy. The collection begins with 'Gut' a prose poem about two giants named Git and Gut, by the time the line 'my mind is a nude on a carousel' is arrived at, the reader has been dragged full circle in a carnival of the absurd. However Hawkins' poetry is not just an exercise in fantastic, free-wheeling oddities, he also has a great eye and ear for the aesthetically pleasing, lines like:

   the peaks are wrapped in magnolia
   where twilight makes the lovers beautiful
        [from 'Happy Whale Fat Smile']


   a cold wind runs through the cane grass
   acacias bedecked with white flower buds
         [from 'Happy Whale Fat Smile']

Are heady and evocative enough to make any romantic poet glow green with envy. It Looks Like an Island But Sails Away
is a triumph of linguistic and imaginative ingenuity from a poet who deserves to have a much wider readership. If you're thinking of buying some new poetry, buy this book.  

The immensely gifted Irish poet Dennis O'Driscoll died on Christmas Eve 2012, Update carries the contents of a file of thirty three poems he had saved on his computer called 'Newest poems', poetry that he wrote after the completion of his previous collection Dear Life. The blurb of Update admits to it being provisional and unfinished, and some of the poems do feel slightly undercooked, but Update also includes some excellent poetry, so fans of O'Driscoll's work will find additional pieces to enjoy. The title poem in particular is worthy of attention:

   What a good listener you always were
   to me, God. I so wish we had not quarrelled,
   gone our separate ways

The re-positioning of God as a former lover or an absent friend makes for a wryly humorous, touching exercise in the confessions of a lapsed Catholic. Elsewhere in the collection O'Driscoll seems angry at the cruelty of a God he is not quite sure if he believes in:

   Restore their rightful memories to Alzheimer patients,
   steady the trembling Parkinson's elders,
   lift depressives from their viscous torpor,
   allow despairing MS victims to step up
        [From 'Petition']

God or no God, O'Driscoll's writing always retains a bleak humour that has led to him being referred to as the Irish Larkin. This short posthumous collection should help to cement his place as a bright light in a constellation of shining Irish poetry stars.

Burn is Andre Bagoo's second collection of poetry; it features a rich array of themes and locations and the writing is clear and confident. The collection opens with the title poem in which bullets fly: 'They are come to rifle me, all two hundred and eighty six of them, brown as guinea owls' it is a powerful introduction. Elsewhere we find the entertaining image of none other than Auden, sitting in his underwear watching TV, eating ice-cream. The poem, 'Auden in Iceland', has five parts each one in a different style. The second part has some neat rhyming:

   A sheet of paper crumpling on
   Vodka, crevices draining into place
   Slopes of mountain torn agape
   I am in love with his face

And the poem builds into a reflection on mortality. In Burn
Andre Bagoo spends a lot of time reminiscing, there is a series of poems with street names, 'Carr Street', 'White Street', 'Lady Young Road', etc possibly the streets of Andre Bagoo's childhood. One of the most successful poems is 'The Tourist', which moves around the author's native Trinidad, always surrounded by images of the sea:

   I dip my toe into this pool
   and an ocean of snow
   engulfs me

In poems like 'The Tourist 'Andre Bagoo shows himself as a young writer of great potential, influences like Eric Roach and Derek Walcott come to mind. I look forward to watching him develop in future collections.

Four titles down, and the world has been left unchanged. If only life was more like a poem. A poem of immense beauty and simplicity, hold that thought, I'm just going to check my twitter feed.

   Charlie Baylis 2015