Saturday 12 November 2016

Momentary Stars

According to the American critic Ron Charles "More poems from  have been shared in the past 2 days than in any other 48-hour period in the past 4 years". Something similar happened after the Twin Towers fell on 9/11 - Auden's great poem 'September 1939' circulated. You'll know this, perhaps even by heart:

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade

The election of the low dishonest dickhead Trump has prompted this resort to poetry. Many readers (including myself) find poetry a consolation, if not a palliative, at times like this. It offers continuity, permanence, direct contact with an intelligent, rational and sophisticated mind (not always, but you catch my drift). I cannot imagine what poems are being circulated in response to Trump's victory, but expect they offer some kind of balance, a compensating sensibility to this sociopathic Ooompa-Loompa.  At times like this poetry is not an escape from reality but an engagement with it, both by poets and their readers.

Momentary Stars is a collection of poems by Edward Vanderpump, ranging from some precocious juvenilia from the early 1960s to the present day. It's a beautifully-produced volume with a gorgeous abstract cover (from a painting by the poet's daughter). I've occasionally come across his work before, in little magazines such as Smith's Knoll - his splendid surname makes an immediate impression.

From internal evidence I think he must have been born soon after the end of the last war, making him around seventy now. There are many consolations among the gifts received for age - family (and grandchildren in particular), cycling and cricket and tennis. Also some pin-sharp memories of listening to Blossom Dearie in a chilly Bristol flat, of the poet as small boy cautiously exploring his parents' bedroom back in the days when mothers had dressing-tables with pots of cold cream and 'boxes for earrings, maybe', of exploring unsupervised the engine room of the old Woolwich Ferry.

       Those ordinary, grubby days seem now
       impossibly free, exciting.
       If only we had realised!

Generous, thoughtful, droll and wise, this is a very satisfying collection. There are poems about cats, about Japan and Vietnam, about mulling over photograph albums and the funeral of the poet's centenarian mother. There is a sudden and dramatic change of tone on page 29 when, following a short poem about a much-loved family cat, we read 'Just Reasons', a fierce and angry re-direction:

       Executions, Terror, Exile, Torture.
       Just reasons, no excuse.

Things become darker after that - poems about Gaza,  a hair-raising cab-ride in Bharatpur, India, Libya and Colonel Gaddaffi (an ogre from another era who, one feels, is almost forgotten).

In  'A Later Train'  the view from a railway carriage of dark and illuminated apartment windows prompts this witty re-purposing of William Blake.

       Bring me my Bic of burning gold,
       bring me my ball-point of desire
       to fill the white squares and the black with names.

Momentary Stars is published by Clydesdale Jefferson Press, 38 Mill Hill Road, Norwich, NR2 3DP

1 comment:

  1. Only just seen this, David - I really appreciate your review.