The Museum of Light by Rupert Loydell
[Arc, 64pp, £6.95]
Loydell’s follow-up to his The Museum of Improvisation is not so much a series of poems
as two long sequences (‘Background Noise’ and ‘Instructions for the Journey’)
interspersed with other poems. The philosophical nature of the work, as
suggested by the epigraph from Hélène Cixous, is present throughout. ‘Wonders
of Animal Life’ muses:
We are apt to
force of habit
has made us.
How then does the
The poem concludes:
We must shift
with the current.
changes and little power.
The pertinently titled ‘Background Noise’, which occupies almost half of this
volume, addresses Loydell’s bugbears: a presiding conformist mentality, the
pervasiveness of capitalism, and a general lack of ambition. At times, the
loosely linked tercets are striking, reminiscent of Blake’s The Marriage of
Heaven and Hell:
The elephants of
oppression are always pedants;
it is not
language they love, it is the sound of freedom
at four hundred
knots per hour, a hundred feet above.
Predominantly, however, the poem seems to replicate the conditions it rails
against. The best example of this is from the poem ‘Instructions for the
Journey’ in which an apparent diary jotting reads: ‘Maybe I am just tired, /
but I find hardcore drum’n’bass unlistenable.’ The style of ‘Background Noise’
is the equivalent of the Lloyds Building, a collage of personal and
philosophical thoughts, its piped and infrastructures brought to the forefront.
Thoughts surface in a flood of free verse whose statements compete with each
other for attention; but with so much background noise to wade through in
adverts, television and radio, a reader might feel justified in asking for new
work rather than the account of an artist trying to function in the culture.
The declamatory nature, hinted at in the title ‘Final Instructions for the
Journey’, is in the main unalleviated by the other pieces in this volume. Besides philosophical musing, there is
little in-depth exploration of ideas, Loydell instead preferring to state his
case. However intended, lines like ‘Produce an inventive Postmodern
recombination of Modernist components’ (‘Instructions for the Journey’)
distance the reader. Similarly, the books listed at the back as ‘sources’ do
not appear to have been sufficiently digested or reformulates: ‘eliminate
social problems. Wipe away centuries of class division, / inserting a layer of
ironic distance’. Loydell neither personalizes nor engages in such sections,
and the rants against popular culture make him seem self-righteous. The
omnipresence of his speaker can also be oppressive, as he seems to forget the
potency of poetry lies in showing more than telling. Consider the superfluous
second line in ‘Background Noise 2’:
I am reinventing
hermeticism for myself.
I loathe all
like to think of
myself as a gardener
as a voice once
again overtakes the wind.
‘Background Noise 4’ describes his writing predicament:
become most apparent:
climb the tree
and whistle like a nightingale
or leave the
audience out in the cold.
It is when his writing becomes more concrete that it gains focus: ‘I have it
figured / on crease-eyed paper’. In ‘Polaroid Epiphanies’ his shifts from the
oblique to the specific bring the text alive. A section about graffiti artists
give the reader an imaginative entrance: ‘Spraycan bandits on silent wings’,
‘the abiding question: how to disfigure the world’. Likewise, a section in
‘Background Noise 4’ beginning ‘The owner of the nightclub spelt it out:’ leans
towards parable and provides an imaginative entrance.
There is an integrity to Loydell’s writing here. Although occasionally
didactic, the intellectual motivation is ambitious. The concern in ‘Background
Noise 2’ with creation and shaping the ‘enormous amount of trash in the room’
is exciting and convincing in its aspiration. It does more, more economically,
than detailing or listing that ‘trash’ item by item, an approach taken too
often. When the lyric appears against the turbulent background he has built up,
it is striking: ‘it may surprise you but my work is full of love’ he writes.
The quotation speaks for Loydell himself. When he escapes the shackle of his
sources and his concern with his immediate predicament, he demonstrates what he
is capable of.
Matt Bryden 2003