Lingering and Loving

rebel angels in the mind shop, Tim Cumming (60pp, pitt street poetry)
Margaret Thatcher's Museum, Antony Owen (24pp, Hesterglock Press)
A Fright of Jays, Marc Woodward (Maquette Press)
Not So Ill with You and Me, Fani Papageorgiou (98pp, Shearsman_

Tim Cumming's angels are non-participatory, they hover and observe, do not interfere; often report and do not even comment. This is perhaps their rebellion, or perhaps that is what angels do; it certainly is in Cumming's mind shop.

Although I miss the grittier urban poetry Cumming used to write, I have to say these captured moments of longing, travel, conversation and family life are exquisite and accomplished. One poem here is called 'Time Lapse', which would have been another apt title for the collection:

   The ways we deal with time –
   the fast track of sunlight across windows
   from the top of a passing bus,
   its route through the major arcana,
   the sun sliding from major key to minor,
   a sharp clearing note breaking in the body
   twisting from its bud or spur,
   the ferns and fronds of the cardiovascular
   waving from the bottom of the deck.
   It gives you a feeling, almost oracular-

This is beautiful writing that takes an image and expands it, often in several direction at once, in this case imagistically, conceptually and visually. It also highlights one of the problems I have which is the way words often get repeated, in this case 'major' occuring twice within two lines. It's a personal problem, I'm sure, and I understand how repetition can lead to stasis and slow a poem down, but I dislike it intensely and it is something Cumming does a lot in this book.

Ah well, it is a minor quibble, more than compensated for by the rest of his work. The end poem is particularly strong, a flashback to the poet's youth, where the narrator watches himself and then turns to his readers:

   Tell them we are coming.
   Tell them we have not grown old.

Indeed he has not grown old, just wiser, quieter and more accomplished as an author. Cumming moves from strength to strength and I look forward to his next publication.

Meanwhile, Antony Owen is perhaps where Tim Cumming used to be, namely in Margaret Thatcher's Museum, an angry, assertive pamphlet collection from a poet who lives in Coventry. There's no doubt about the sincerity and passion at work here, but it is best when Owen uses familial and/or cultural detail to flesh out his poems rather than polemic or bizarre images. What, for instance, to make of this, the start to the prose poem 'The Man Who Ate the World'?:

   if the street played a violin it would sound like secrets from
   damned men and throb like bones of sparrows sighting the axe.
   It would deafen like the howling pack who grieve for earth's
   pale Mother bloodied in the days last throes.

This, and an ongoing struggle with punctuation, are the weak elements in what is otherwise a strong debut. Better are phrases like 'the fleur-de-lis of snowflakes' and 'Every street is rebuilt by birdsong', although some of the overtly politically outspoken poems are also very strong. I love this opening verse to 'Nigel Farage Street':

   Walk with me down Nigel Farage street
   and let's pound the street like a fascists flag.
   We'll pass the bunting of a slaughtered pig
   then you will look offended and I'll say
   token British things to make you feel better like
   Mum said youre lovely for an Indian and still
   lovely when I said you're Pakistani.

This is laugh aloud stuff with a serious message underneath. When Owen is at his best, this is what he achives. Library closures, IRA bombs, abandoned cars and failing industry, suicides and Owen's father's death are all explored here. The title perhaps suggests writing rooted in the past, but this is as urgent and contemporary as it gets, this is righteous anger and truly contemporary poetry that mixes the personal and political:

   When I was a son
   you closed with the factories,
   broke things to fix them.

   You grew a moustache,
   wore unemployed clothes,
   caged your words in a shed.

   That black leg Easter you wept,
   Thatcher glided in a Daimler,
   like spit on union coats.


   I was your son a long time ago,
   when I raced to the gate
   of your Kawasaki symphony.

   Childhood was an itchy caravan
   on a site full of white folk
   wrestling with windbreakers.

   Childhood was a magic trick,
   it vanished with the work
   sometimes in the eighties.
      (from 'The Little Things Destroy Us')

Thankfully the little things did not destroy this powerful, accomplished new voice.

I'm less convinced by Marc Woodward's poems in his new pamphlet from the resurrected Maquette Press.
A Fright of Jays contains a number of what the back cover calls 'dark pastoral' poems, which about sums it up. They are well wrought enough, if at times overworked, but the poems have little sense of surprise or consideration of audience in them.

This, the start to 'The Nightshade at the Church House Inn', is an example of what I mean:

   Rain drips off the thatched porch
   as we laugh and light up
   Or rather, they do.
   I'm not here for the nicotine
   but the camaraderie.

So what are you here for? And why am I, the reader, here? The poem does little more than report further on the group's chat and drink, before moving to an ending where a the colour of a mandolin gets compared to tobacco. Hmmm… Sorry, these domestic poems and attempted epiphanies do little for me.

Fani Papageorgiou's second book from Shearsman is a much more warmhearted and engaging volume, a kind of travelogue divided into four sections, each full of untitled poems about place, love, longing and memory.

Papageorgiou has an eye for emotional detail, the way the body reacts to touch or not being touched, the thoughts that flicker through the mind when a lover does not call or says the wrong thing. How temperature, memory and location affect engagement and desire:

   So much of love depends on echo.

   I will never forget you,
   says the water.
   Say to yourself,
   you lose them anyway.
        (page 83)

   There is a fountain
   in the middle of a terrracotta patio,
   a cluster of Tasmanian fern trees,
   the smell of burnt wood.

   Would this make you happy,
   you wonder?

   You'll be broken open at the chest
   and you stand warned.
       (page 91)

This is a poetry of accumulation, of echoes and asides, a very self-aware poetry that exists in a heightened state, constantly questioning itself and the reader:

   Is every desire a liability?
   Love grows from lust.
   In the event of fire do not use this lift.

   If you want everything
   to come together for a moment,
   do first everything that frightens you.

   You've got twenty-four hours left in this town.
        (page 82)

Twenty four hours will never be enough. Buy Not So Ill with You and Me so you have more time. Long may this poet wander, linger and love.

   © Rupert Loydell 2015