Flowers, Kathryn Gray
Rack Press, 2017 £5.00
Google and I
Basic rule of reading poems: do not look up arcane/unknown references unless the poem grabs your attention to the point where you have to know more about what’s going on. After all, it’s not so long ago that we all managed, somehow, without having search engines at our thumb/fingertips. Reference books, library visits, friends: we coped. But Google makes a difference, and other worlds are there, opening out, irresistible – but only if the poetry is good in the first place.
It was the final poem (the ninth poem) that set my fingers twitching. ‘Testament’, clearly about a pop star (are they still called that?) in the voice of a besotted teenage fan – not, I guessed, the voice in 2017 of this poet, whose first collection was short-listed for the T S Eliot Prize in 2004. First name: Brandon. Name of album: Flamingo.
And the whole story spills out: Brandon Flowers, (hence the title, Flowers), formerly of the Las Vegas band ‘The Killers’, a whole Wikipedia entry. It was the mock-seriousness of the poem, the ‘blow of not inconsiderable proportion’ when the fan discovers (‘when first I Googled you / hourly’) he has not only a faithful wife but three children, that brought both laughter and some rueful self-recognition.
After that, Google and I worked on the earlier poems. Google reminded me that ‘Mrs Lightbrand’ was actually Rosemary Tonks in her Bournemouth years, and explained to me that ‘The Meet-Cute’ is cinema’s term for a first romantic meeting. And Google introduced me to Bill Hicks, an American stand-up comedian who died when only 33, and whose surviving quotes have a bitter, wry, nicotine tinge. Gray’s prose poem ‘Regarding Your day Off’ referenced the 1986 US teen comedy ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’ and in such a way that I want to see it. ‘John in Darkness’, opening with the haunting picture ‘The wrong side of the tracks, / little house in their yearning / abandonment’, is completed with some knowledge of ‘The Breakfast Club’ – another US coming-of-age film.
Only nine poems (Rack Press pamphlets are very slim) but fun. And I’ve learned a lot, including how a ‘voice’ can pull me, unexpectedly, into a poem.
D A Prince