Reviewed by Helena Nelson, Fiona Moore and D A Prince
So what’s not to like? This is a tiny soupçon of first publication poetry. It’s slender, inexpensive, painless. It contains only five poems. It hardly hurts at all.
Besides, even though Nasty Little Press specializes in the performance guys, this is surprisingly unstagey. No booze, no cigarette smoke, no F or C words splashed on the ceiling, no BLAH.
Just a quiet voice that creeps up on you politely and charms you into submission, even in ‘Farnham’ which gambols (and gambles) with similes, up-ends them and takes you along for a joyous ride. Or ‘Song for Tom Robinson’, which deals with disappointment in such a way I wanted to cheer. In such a little publication, it seems almost like stealing the show to quote much, but I’ll end on a cliff-hanger from ‘Tom Robinson’ for all who (like me) love the wireless:
The world should look exactly
like it sounds. The wind should shimmer. Birds
should look like silver penny-whistles. Echoes
should wobble visibly, and radio
Send for this gem of an ‘intro’ and read the end!
Tasty, and nice – five poems, eight pages, a morsel. The risk is that the work doesn’t stand up to such exposure. This work does. Four poems begin with a moment, and reflect on it. ‘Meeting’ features a religious tea-party of the joyless variety, and its epigraph is an AS Level question, “To what extent is religious language meaningful?” That night, the narrator thinks of Betjeman, Donne . . . and John Cooper Clarke:
Each hinting eagerly at something more
than PG Tips and threats of purgatory.
A detail left unmentioned at the meeting,
or whispered just before I entered, late
and out of breath, I fell asleep to static,
the radio left on, untuned.
The interplay between epigraph, meeting and reflections is well handled. It’s enjoyable to read a poem that needs four lines of description as context for quoting the last verse, and the quiet, iambic style is a good vehicle for such thoughtful content.
‘Portrait of a Pair of Lovers’ again analyses a mood from an unusual perspective – starting with a close-up of all the hairs “condensed together” on the heads of the observer’s two friends who embrace:
[ . . . ] something close to love crawled out
of my shirt pocket. Its trail glistened
as it crossed the kitchen floor
Up to “pocket”, I find that metaphor striking; when the “something” is clarified as snail-like, I’m not so sure.
As those extracts show, the tone lacks the edginess and irony of much contemporary poetry, and this makes it fresh. The last poem, ‘Song for Tom Robinson’, is the least original in this respect, and its narrative shifts are handled a little awkwardly. Throughout the pamphlet, my inner editor wanted to tinker at the edges – here, for example, is the convenor in ‘Meeting’: “Scottish hair and tight-lipped pinned-back guilt-trips”. Too many adjectives may cancel each other out.
‘Silent Disco’ is very different from the rest – a fast-moving dance-of-death fantasy, with
the kind to let
dry on the clothes they find
That poem’s the only clue to Saunders’ background – performance poet, on stage at Latitude and the Edinburgh Fringe. (He’s also, as his own publisher puts it, “sickeningly young”.) I wouldn’t have guessed from reading #5; these poems hold their own on the page.
D A Prince:
This is a very slender volume, but that’s the intention. It’s an ‘Intro’ – tempting, just a flavour. Tristram Fane Saunders, the back cover tells us, is a performance poet and “sickeningly young”: all of 19. Your £2.00 buys five poems, eight pages in all, and the promise that this is “the perfect accompaniment to a train journey or a long hot bath.” Does Suffolk (where Nasty Little Press is based) have exceptionally short train journeys or unusually slow/thoughtful readers?
But their sense of timing is right. These are poems to linger with as you stare out of the train window, or through the steam, or as you try to remember what your own influences were when you, too, were “sickeningly young”. It’s the epigraph to the opening poem, ‘Meeting’, that gives a clue to the poet’s mindset: “To what extent is religious language meaningful? Discuss. – AS Religious Studies Paper, 2010.” Not your average performance poet, then. And is this – yes! – iambic pentameter? and is this – yes! – Betjeman? Donne? Unhappy with a room of God-talk and Man’s Failings, Fane Saunders starts to catalogue his own idea of ‘religious language’ –
Lying in bed that night I made a list:
the warm, fat chords of Mendelssohn’s Elijah,
John Betjeman, summoned to Him by bells,
or Donne, dreaming of hands which span the poles,
John Cooper Clarke, lighting a dog-end in Limbo,
the doorway in the rain outside His house.
Performance poetry with literary hinterland? – things are looking up. He’s good at gently placing an idea somewhere near you, his reader, never asserting, not quite questioning, just letting it sit there for you to think about. He lets you share his quiet outsiderness, like the “cup of lukewarm cider” he sips in ‘Portrait of a Pair of Lovers.’ This is a tender, wistful poem about love, about watching lovers, while recognising that the watcher’s current role is
others’ love with gratitude
grown just a little cold with waiting.
If you’ve seen Kneehigh Theatre’s Tristran and Yseult, with its Club of the Unloved eager to see how lovely Love is even though it’s beyond their experience, you’ll recognise this: a mix of sadness, a kind of hope, and hopelessness. It’s one with
tatters of mankind
the broken folk
the speechless and the blind
[ . . .]
the clubbers left behind
It’s rhyme that holds them together, while we consider how much of an overlap there is between the DJ and God.
This is a limited edition, and my copy is 96/100, so you’re not likely to get your hands on one. And no, I’m not open to offers. I’m keeping this. He’s good.