Stepping Back, Resubmission for the Ordinary Level Examination in Psychogeography, Jeremy Page
The Frogmore Press, 2016 £5.00
Reader as examiner, and poet as failed student
Poetry loves exploring the past. Here Jeremy Page goes back to his roots unapologetically. In the opening poem he packs a bag and takes ‘the slow train / to the coast’. So he grew up in a seaside town and that’s where he returns to examine ‘a strange, familiar landscape’, with a sly nod at a concept that didn’t even exist when he was growing up – ‘psychogeography’. Even that is viewed in terms of a failed exam. Will he pass this time? I don’t think so. He is cocking a snook at the examiner, who could be you or me analysing his poems.
But forget the assessment process as you read. You can ‘just’ enjoy these poems, with merely a passing awareness of metaphorical ‘baggage’ as you join the poet in looking back. it's a richly varied experience, about which much may be said, but a notion of time in which the future and past intertwine is central.
I particularly like ‘Bathing’ which is both a real act and a gently symbolic one. Whether or not you have memories of seaside swims (I do), the first stanza creates its own world:
As I break the water
with my own version of breaststroke
my children watch in silence
from the shore and suddenly
everyone whose daily life collides
with mine is not there.
Jeremy Page is by no means the first poet to have written about swimming away from the shore – that sense of instant remoteness, the isolated swimmer – but he does it so beautifully that I am with him every inch of the way.
Besides there is a gentle, self-deprecating humour behind every scrap of poetic technique. His family ‘have taken their baggage / in all its shapes and guises / and retreated up the beach’.
How I love ‘shapes and guises’! It is so simple – shapes and guises, instead of shapes and sizes – and suddenly I remember how hard it is to be simple, and how rarely a poet achieves it.
Of course, you don’t get an A in Psychogeography for writing simply. But you should.