When at first I
was reading David Grubb's poems I was thinking how fast they are, something
like breathless. When I returned to them some days later I thought how slowly
and steadily they move, with calm breaths. Visually in size and shape they
are not uniform, though he likes long lines.
There seems to be necessity, not in itself an assurance of a rewarding read,
but a significant factor, a good sign. The poems open themselves fast or slow
in pleasing and unexpected ways. This is one mode,
nevertheless writing this late in the early
buttons were off and trash talk began
and there was
again this dispute about just what
was who and
did grass matter and whoever it was
and so on for another thirteen lines ('Shockbox, Ballyhoo and Grass
Blowing'). Not my favourite mood of his, but it does tell me I need to mention fun. A serious business,
fun, to go to this trouble for it, with it, and the poem comes to a sober
conclusion that 'the only/ thing you remember for ever is the smell of
His several Saint Francis poems bring something strange and beautiful to
thoughts of that oft-clichˇd saint, and there is a poem, 'The colours of
music', that is profound in its perceptions of children:
children dream so hard
other lives in tangled light
wake up to love us again;
and so on for five more warming and uncommonly common stanzas. Such poems, in
which as a reader I discover what I didn't know I knew, and am glad I do now,
are special. Easy to find others here, amongst them, 'What are the dead for?'
and 'Looking after my father.'
I wonder whether first of all life suggests poetry to us or poetry
from wherever it comes enriches life:
The door to
the house belongs to the garden,
belongs to the stone wall,
wall belongs to the hill
and so on ('Stealing thunder', half a page long) derives from, embarks upon,
discovers in the making, a whole way of being, of perceiving. Perhaps running
through both of these books is a continuation and developing inwards and
outwards of childhood, responsive now to the poets' own children.
is no less empathetic while more chatty. One assumes his poems are made to go
into print, while also we are overhearing, we are drawn into a
talking-to-himself, into the poems' wondering aloud, of the moment.
Obsessional even with Loydell's 'Animals Are Not Your Friends', twenty-two of
these poems so titled planted like stinging nettles along a track.
not your friends. Look how
away when you're near, all they want
food. There is a strangeness about them,
a dark and
wilful energy even when they're tame.
I am quite a
either me or the drums!"
Some irony here, possibly, and (whether he sees it like that or not) a bold
experiment in playing on the prevailing voices at home and in poems. The
second and fourth (last) stanzas of all these poems are of this kind, with a
single line adrift from them, a voice, as the line here.
These poems are amid others that are speculative, there's an 'at home' and a
'bothered by other things' about the whole book; it plays without quite
saying so on wondering where poems belong in a busy life, so that on pages
66-7 one is presented with this, called 'Trust me', as if wanting someone to
The audio visual
equipment isn't working again;
morning's lecture was short and off the point.
A man on
nobody's staff list was using the room
interviews, despite my prior booking. Work
and so on, collaring on the way Dylan, Ginsberg, T S Eliot, Iain Sinclair
and Tolkien. I happen to know, to my chagrin, that this apparently
free-flowing structured style of poem is hard to write. I might add sometimes
hard to read, but it is alive here towards the larger picture of what's
One doesn't have to be heavy to be serious is what the book tells me. It has
an overall shape, too, not heavily emphasised but an emotional journey that
becomes apparent along the way and towards its end, so that the opening poem,
'Departure', and the last one, 'Arrival', carry a tension of holding on and
letting go. The final pages have his students leaving ('Last Day of Term'),
two more 'Animals Are Not Your Friends' that are in a struggle between
elegiac and staying calm, between maintaining the detached voice while
seeming to envy the animals' 'collecting food for winter/ and thinking about
sleep', until on the final page with the final lines there is a letting go
deferred 'as I wait for an ending to emerge.'
There is more 'I' in Loydell, more in Grubb of the speculative surreal. Both
are good storytellers starting from where they are, Loydell holds his breath
for a shorter time, Grubb takes deeper breaths and enters sometimes the
longer race. The latter's longish 'The Meaning of Light' over three laps holds
its tension (neither poet here comes to easy narrative conclusions), and I
query only the way in which the sequence slides from shorter to longer lines
towards steadying itself at long ones.
As he wanted it, perhaps. My own experience, perhaps especially typing on to
the screen, is that it is sometimes hard to hold a line: this drift is
familiar. And not pleasing on the eye. Perhaps intentionally.
Anyway, it's a relative quibble, for, while neither Grubb nor Loydell use
end-rhyme, what is evident is a consistent pleasure and craft in making - and
so now in reading them. There is much more here than a brief review can take
in: two good additions to Shearman's list.
© David Hart