Flarestack, 2008 £3.00 - www.flarestack.co.uk
Mark Leech’s London Water is a series of five poems based on five rivers that flow under and through London. Alongside the usual descriptions of rivers doing their thing is attentive portrayal and appraisal of the landscapes that surround them. It’s obvious that descriptive power is one of Leech’s primary talents—and one he tends to play to when the opportunity presents itself. The poems are visceral collages of physical experience that vacillate between personal and more omniscient modes:
Together, a family spills out from someone else’s house,
talking in Spanish while the host waves.
The river soaks his slippered feet and leaves him
I remember the five-day dreams
of the bus going north and west—
they dragged weeks and forced
The three turns here—from detailed personae and their activity, to a linked account of the river, back to a personal rumination on memory—represent the main constituent elements of the poem sequence as a whole. The ease with which Leech manages (most of the time) to switch between observational manners is an indicator of the versatility of his style.
This dependency on physical observation does come at a price, however. Each poem comes with a subtitle attached (presumably designed to present an overall ambience and a sense of the poet’s role in the scene). They are ‘Innocence’, ‘Alone’, ‘Growing Up’, ‘Discovery’ and ‘History’. These subtitles attempt to serve as a link between the exterior and the interior, the concrete and the abstract, the specific and the general. They do so heavy-handedly and without a great measure of success, but more concerning is the fact that their existence pinpoints the same deficiency in the text itself. There is a great deal of physical description, much of which is probably surplus to requirements. In contrast, there is, to my mind, insufficient catharsis or development of the metaphysical.
It is difficult to avoid comparisons to Alice Oswald’s book-length poem Dart for obvious reasons, and it is a comparison few would escape unscathed. To its credit, London Water somewhat manages to fight its corner, thanks to its waterfall of sonics and its humane, detailed accounts of life alongside the rivers.
What the Common Reader says about Mark Leech’s London Water:
The first thing I noticed was that the pamphlet wasn’t well-produced, but I suppose this is fair enough considering Flarestack advertise “poetry collections in a no-frills A5 stapled format” and that is exactly what this is.
Still, I found the lay-out (large chunks of text) difficult to read and the accompanying comments (in square boxes) distracting. They are very busy pages.
Having said this, it is amazing that Mark Leech has accrued so much information about London waterways. It is such a pity that it feels crammed in, because there are some lovely passages in this collection.
And the Young Reader adds:
The book’s cover looks simple, eye-catching and stylish. It feels good in your hand, and entices you to open it and see what’s inside.
Unfortunately, once I’d opened the book I was greeted by tiny black print closely grouped together on white paper. Not only this, but the whole chapbook contained only five extremely long poems packed tightly onto its pages. It looks more like a government report than a collection of poems.
Despite the foreboding appearance, the poems themselves were a bit better than I expected. They’re about the hidden rivers that flow under London, and they meander a bit like the rivers themselves through strings of images and ideas. I lost interest quite quickly though.