camouflaged beasts, Charles G. Lauder Jr.
The Black Light Engine Room, 2017 £5.00
The opening poem, ‘Late in the Evening’, isn’t about poetic rhythm as such — it’s about rain and its companionable sounds — but these lines caught me:
but still a sense
of something relayed
in the rhythm,
like code passed
They touch on communication and the way a poet reaches — and then holds — a reader by more than just the surface of the poem. The subject alone is never enough; if the poem lacks an underlying supporting pulse it might as well be written in prose. Rhythm can soothe (as in this poem), where the short couplets are subtly half-rhymed, and where the closing couplet (‘an old know, / that we are never alone’) shows how Lauder’s poems will meet and connect with his readers. He doesn’t spell it out or force the connection; he lets the reader feel it.
Rhythm can unsettle, too. Take ‘Night Bus’, in which buses and travellers share the same lurching movement —
Night buses gather in Trafalgar like drunks
red-faced bleary-eyed prop up lamp-posts
swap stories then with a sigh and a slash
heave away all the aches and pains of a teeter
around the corner
Buses and drunks alike are too exhausted to give us the full Trafalgar Square; they can only manage a truncated stab at the name. Subject matter and rhythm are working together, and Lauder is alert to this. Like any good poet, he has command of a range of rhythms and has an ear for the most appropriate. Late night tension, uncertainty, and a tendency to stumbling are echoed in a rhythm that edges towards instability while remaining just within control. Reading aloud reveals the variety of rhythmic use — as in the voice of the state bed at Calke Abbey in ‘A Semblance of Importance’ —
I am stateliness, I am fertility,
I am prosperity and opulence. I am longevity.
Long vowels, yes, but listen to the rhythm of confidence. It pays to read these poems aloud.