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Tag Archives: Ralph Dartford

Review: Holding Your Hand Through Hard Times: a collection by Firm Of Poets

56 pages

Paperback

ISBN 978 0 9930192 0 3

Published by Ossett Observer Presents, 2014

This chapbook features poems by Ralph Dartford, Matthew Headley Stoppard, Geneviève L. Walsh, John Darwin, and Matt Abbott.  I know all these people.  I have been given very generous lifts in the car belonging to Ralph and his wife, Jacqui.  I have interviewed Matthew Headley Stoppard on my radio programme, and shared a stage with him during the promotion of the Grist poetry anthology.  I have headlined and done open mic at Spoken Weird, run by Geneviève Walsh.  I have read a poem at Write Out Loud in Sale, run by John Darwin (where Ralph and Matthew also performed) and I have heard Matt Abbott perform many times, in Wakefield and Sheffield.

The first thing that strikes you about this book is the production quality.  As a manufactured object, it is a thing of craft, beauty, and durability.  It is held together with red stitching which reminded me of the seams on a pair of stockings.  The cover design is distinctive but minimal.  There is an endpaper made of textured black paper which looks almost as if it has been retrieved from a bonfire without being broken.  The text uses two colours, black and red, which appealed to my anarcho-syndicalist background, and two fonts (the maximum number permissible in a single document which doesn’t contain equations or scientific notation).  The poems are divided by author, and appear in the order I listed the names previously.

If you happen to live near Wakefield, the nicest way to obtain this book is to visit Rickaro Books in Horbury, where it is currently in stock (http://www.rickarobooks.co.uk/).  (While you are there, you might also like to have a look at a copy of ‘Escape Kit’.)

Ralph Dartford’s work is free verse, mostly with short lines, and uses rhyme, rhythm, and stanzas, but not in a regular form.  His subjects are marginal lives, relationships, and the passing of time – all good stuff.  His last poem is political and is that rarest of objects: a political poem that sounds as if it was written by a grown-up and which actually works.  Ralph achieves this by observing one of the simplest rules, which is to write from the personal, the detailed, and the practical, rather than the impersonal, the abstract, and the hypothetical.

Matthew Headley Stoppard uses longer lines which are harder to enunciate than Ralph’s.  His subject matter defies categorisation, but the poems all have a clear narrative voice.  The vocabulary contains a lot of words, and goes near to the point of becoming poetic, e.g. with ‘ellipsis’ and ‘dovetailed’, but the language feels free and experimental rather than pretentious or over-written.  I am fascinated to see how MHS’s already mature-sounding style will develop as he approaches the age of thirty.

Geneviève’s first poem has the same narrative mode as some of the passages in ‘The Damned United’, by David Peace – the ones in which the voice of Brian Clough is narrating.  In other words, there is an unreliable, first person narrator, who addresses himself (herself, in Geneviève’s case) in the second person.  The effect in both places is to make the narrator sound unhinged.  Her poems use a lot of figurative comparisons, but still manage to sound contemporary.

John Darwin’s two main themes are a sense of place, and mortality, sometimes with both in the same poem.  One of the poems is set in Turkey, but for a reason related to the subject, not for the sake of sounding exotic.  John uses rhyme and rhythm, in a manner which is more regular than most of the other work, but he doesn’t use standard forms.  As I implied earlier, all these poems are written for performance, by seasoned performers.  Matt and Geneviève are loud performers.  Ralph, MHS, and John are clear but quiet performers.

Matt Abott’s poems are about a sense of place, romantic longing, and a review he once received via a posting on the Channel 4 website.  ‘This One’s For Tim’ is the only poem in the book which is about writing poetry.  It is also the most regular in form (five quartets, each with a rhyme scheme AABB).  ‘Drunken Culinary Kingdom’ is about one of The Forbidden Subjects For Contemporary Poetry – going for a drunken night out.  It is also regular in form, apart from a variant middle stanza.  Matt does this kind of thing much better than most of his contemporaries, but I think it reads less well on the page than some of his other work.

The collection is fairly well-balanced (in the artistic rather than the mental health sense).  It contains a lot of craft, some guile, a mixture of emotions, and it will try to hit you over the head with a tyre-iron in places.  If you are interested in poetry which is urban, contemporary and unpretentious (like mine is) then buy it.  If you have any affection for books as manufactured objects, then buy it whatever your opinion of poetry is.

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