Drowning up the Blue End
116 pages here so it costs you a quid more than London Visions which boasts a mere 98… If it has been a hard week and you have to decide between the two then pay the extra money; it’s worth the investment.
There is nothing whatsoever written on the rear cover of Drowning up the Blue End except the cover price. No anonymous scribble imploring you to read the contents or extolling with vast hyperbole the genius of the poet. I like that; it could (and should) catch on. It immediately warmed me to whoever made the bold decision. I’m also delighted to say that Bluechrome, in this collection anyway, have abandoned their appalling habit of using obscure fonts for poem titles. Before even beginning to read this collection therefore I was a happy, happy bunny.
But there was a blurb that came with this review copy and in it I was informed that Siriol Troup ‘began writing poetry in 2001’. Makes you sick doesn’t it? Here’s me slaving away for close to thirty years and Ms Troup throws together her first collection of poems and I feel like packing it all in. Why? Because these are so very good that’s why! OK. She is one of those people who can’t even be bothered to clean up her dog-crap; ‘You tug the lead, kick leaves/ over the shit’… but her poetry has left me in magnanimous mood so I’ll forgive her this antisocial inclination, even allow that the ‘You’ referred to in this particular poem is someone of whom she disapproves.
In her poem ‘Bridge’ she reflects on the ‘drowning’ which forms the collection’s title;
Look at the black water racing
the river full as a barrel
for drowning cats.
It will be like falling asleep,
armfuls of wet hair rippling,
the slippered seduction of dreams
All those words used up –
spring, self, blackbird, happiness.
How she wrapped them in bombazine,
lugged them to the river’s edge,
Phrases like ‘The river full as a barrel’ and ‘The slippered seduction of dreams’ roll lazily of the tongue when you read the poem aloud, and that word, ‘bombazine’ hurls me back to Dylan’s ‘Under Milk Wood’ wherein the Chapel itself is wrapped in ‘bombazine black’, the traditional mourning weeds, mourning in Troup’s poem for words that are now ‘used up’; ‘Spring, self, blackbird, happiness.’ And she ends the poem with a throat tightening explanation as to why the suicide may happen; ‘If she has to give reasons/ then this:/ the burden of sunrise.’ How better to explain the absurdity and the sheer nihilism of self-destruction? ‘the burden of sunrise’… yes.
And then there is the care and poetic-labour that has gone into Ms Troup’s choice of words and phrases. She speaks of; ‘The liquefaction/ of a cotton dress.’, ‘youth as a rugby pitch/ with death as referee.’, ‘the brain’s/ radiating honeycomb.’ and of a room which ‘stiffens into silence’. and of words juxtaposed for provocative effect, words like ‘a tempered gale’ or ‘feathery scales’. These are phrases that make me pause, make me roll them on my tongue and savour them languidly and with relish.
There are expansive poems which reveal the poet’s compassion (as in ‘Aberfan’), poetic vision (as in the section labelled ‘Half-Life’) and throughout the complete collection a continuous feeling that Ms Troup actually loves words, loves to carefully arrange them to resonate music to the reader’s ears.
I will return to this collection and I will be on the look out for more of Ms Troup’s evocative explorations of situations, places, people and the poetic form, she is an artist with a total grasp of the craft of poetry and this collection is, on the whole, a delight.
Just 98 pages and again, no rear cover blurb… BUT a rear cover poem, and what’s more it’s entirely typeset in some pointless wobbly obscure font! Ugh! What is the point Bluechrome? And what is the point of setting the poem titles in this same wobbly font? Does it add to the aesthetics or did someone towards the end of a Friday editorial board meeting at Bluechrome just joke; ‘Why not set the titles in a silly and pointless font?’ and the remark somehow found its way into the minutes?
Anyway; to the poetry of Mr Oxley. I was an apprentice mason when young (the kind who works with stone not the kind who practice funny handshakes and bribe Judges), I had to serve five years in order to learn a complex craft. If poetry is a craft then maybe there should be a compulsory five year period in which the person desirous of earning the title ‘Poet’ can at least learn the rudiments of the craft. Mr Oxley for one might benefit from a course, for example, in rhyme. This poem, ‘Shadowy Babylons’, (Sorry can’t reproduce the pointless font) might then never have been born:
The Thames is wide
a river that never breathes,
is combed with light
but still deceives.
From upper Marlow
and quaint Bourne End
where water meadows squelch
and leaves make golden blend
in autumn, down to
concrete London and the sea
everywhere the same
wall-talk of another world
that speaks of shadows
and different ways
the normal ‘normal’ never knows
I will presume that most of the people reading this review are poets, potential readers or critics and therefore do not really need me to point out where this piece is going wrong. But I will anyway. The rhyme is too obvious; breathes-deceives, End-blend, sea-graffiti and shadows-knows, it is as if the poet is searching for the rhyme at the expense of the content and besides that, there occur ill-chosen words like ‘quaint’ Bourne End and ‘concrete’ London. To me, these are lazy words, words that tell me little that I didn’t already know. Can you imagine this poet labouring with a worried frown for the finest and most stimulating adjective to describe Bourne End and coming up with ‘quaint’? OK the rhyme does not occur in all of the poems, not even in the majority, but when it does it grates equally as in ‘Glad in Mayfair’; purr-fur, boutiques-weeks, owned-cloned, wealth-stealth and square-there and while I’m at it ‘Glad’ in Mayfair? ‘Glad’? Glad is a mediocre word in its own right hovering somewhere between ‘exhilarating’ and ‘vaguely happy’, ‘Glad’ means, means, ugh I don’t know what it means really. Coleridge (‘Poetry is the best words in the best order’) must be tossing in his grave like a junkie starved of Laudanum.
So you are concluding that I love Ms Troup’s collection and intensely dislike Mr Oxley’s? Well, it isn’t as easy as that because just when the fonts are driving me nuts and the rhyme and ill-chosen words are inducing a massive headache I come across Mr Oxley’s almost naïve and Claire-like description in ‘Snack Bar, Leather Lane’;
A haggis-complexioned old woman
her hair white as winter’s snow
blind and blustery for Scotland
for ‘th’auld country’ and ‘Glasgie’
laying about her wildly
for homeland and highland and whiskey
and a niece she could no longer see.
…that is good, it could benefit from refining, from examining each word carefully but in essence you can feel the poet’s empathy and closeness to the subject. But in general you will read little in London Visions that doesn’t make you want to edit and alter the content.
And so here we have a Good collection of poetry from Siriol Troup, another collection from William Oxley which is, in the main, Bad… and scattered throughout the latter, Bluechrome’s own peculiar fetish for pointless and Ugly fonts. Anthony Delgrado is the Editor in Chief of Bluechrome, he is a good man, taking time out to give endless advice to poets (including myself) and allowing many new and previously unpublished poets to have their work aired to a wider audience. I wish though that he’d either take time out to explain to me the point of the wobbly-font phenomena (which invades other collections from Bluechrome by the way)… because there either has to be a point; or it is pointless, that is a tautology, if it’s pointless then drop it… please?
© copyright Alan Corkish 2005