‘The greatest possibility open to us lies in giving ourselves up’
– Tom Clark, White Monkeys
I’ve never heard Rupert Loydell sing, either unaccompanied or ‘along with every word’ to a melody from a well-known album playing, but I expect – like the rest of us – it is far more empathy than perfect tone. What I can fully hear is the anger inside his experience when comparing the ‘hippy nonsense’ of his ‘favourite album played’ with the ‘snapshot’ [selfie] culture he finds himself surrounded by today in bars like the one where his nostalgic preference is being heard [In the Corner]. In this respect he has nailed it, or more precisely, nailed his opinions to the sticking place.
Loydell will always nail it in this significant sense. In a world that isn’t what it was ‘meant to be’ but rather an endurance test of compromise and adjustments over promise, the one still-point of integrity is a firm opinion. This doesn’t mean everything felt and expressed is full of absolute confidence. Far from it. In Uneasy Rider – this a playful adjustment to past and present – Loydell expresses his firmness with the comic caveat of honest balance,
‘I am stronger than steel and more elastic than rubber
bands, have an internal spring bar to prevent my brain
and this is the coping mechanism for living in and writing about a world full of constant and meaningless change as well as safe zones of continuing experience. When being nostalgic
‘…for familiar things like
depression and anxiety’
becomes your safety net as well, the compromise is all about acceptance and realism, however often it is being ‘chased by darkness’.
So what are the reliable constants when you are waiting for one to come along while ‘supping a pale ale made by a brewing company I have never heard of’? Well, there’s friendship, though this too has its flux,
‘How strange friendship is. We string it out across
distance, sometimes rooted in shared pasts, sometimes
more about where we find ourselves in the present. At
other times it is a kind of jogging along, because we
work together or live in the same village.
Sometimes it is not really friendship, but at other times
there is something in the air, and when you first meet
you know something is up and invite them back for a
[X and Y]
If this seems rather prosaic that’s because it is. How do we reflect on the everyday and make it real? By being honest, and not exaggerating, as here. That is one of the many strengths of these prose poems: reflecting on significant matters in our life with the clarity of truth. That, by the way, is also expressing firm opinions.
If you want the poetic – and this isn’t a competition, it is a writing mirror held up to the real – the prose poem Out of Focus (16 Snapshots) provides plenty of lyricism. For example, the first is soothing in its dealing with colour, itself a painter’s observational sensibility,
‘This showroom shows off blue glass, blue glaze and
the way the light falls through etched windows.
Chequered tiles turn blues to grey and the table and
fire surround are worn metal that does not reflect.’
Later there are
‘Vertical shadows beyond the painted line at the edge
of the space. Pillars holding up the darkness above, a
single window offers an empty backlit silhouette.’
And in the penultimate view, which has been punctuated by people and events, past and present, along the way,
‘It is the landscape out of focus, not my eyes.
Everything slopes to the foggy left, the brown grass
is almost pink, the middle distance white as though
and we should note within this last but also preceding how there is uncertainty seen and expressed within the details, how thinking and writing about it is a processing. Reading is like walking around the exposition being described – you can ‘navigate the exhibition by instinct or buy a folded paper guide’.
In the title poem, the world of work [actual or an amalgam] seems to impinge on what we can do in this world of ours: new methods and approaches are rooted in accountability we probably don’t trust, and the offering of ‘free pens and stationery’ usurps integrity. This is, of course, the mundane, but it is emblematic of a world changing [OK, obviously – always has and always will] but changing away from the reference points where we started and valued them. And yes, context is everything, always has and…
Perhaps there is more certainty in having rules to follow. There certainly is when these are delightful metaphors and a thoroughly acceptable, comic ars poetica, like rule 6,
‘Poets using motorways will be aware that the third
eye can be opened or closed at any time. It should
only be opened to improve rhythmic flow and reduce
[The Rules of Motorways]
When the darkness does, however, chase us, there is no motorway with which to escape. All we can do is try to understand, calculate the best way – traditionally through religion – or find alternatives like writing about it all, seeking a more comfortable nuance in a different darkness,
‘There is nothing beyond geometry, we must
understand our world through seeking its edges.
Collateral damage is disheartening. What’s another
way of thinking about war? The dark inner part of the
[A Phenomenon Seldom Understood]
If my invocation of ‘writing about it all’, as Loydell has, doesn’t seem convincing, read the wonderfully fine lines of Sacred Ground, the book’s penultimate poem.
I’ll close on a quote from The World We Desire because this captured for me what I had intuited in my reading of the whole. In this, the writing/poetry/expression is how we learn to cope with the world we desire but cannot have as such, as the poem actually concludes ‘the world that awaits us is not the world we desire’,
‘A continuous process transforms consciousness,
adjusts people to abnormal conditions and encourages
them to pursue and commit to the expression of
As Tom Clark concludes his poem White Monkeys [and the epigraph which begins this review is that poem’s first line]:
‘…it appears we’re meant to endure life on a dying planet by becoming aware of emotion.’
For further details about and to buy Contextual Studies from Broken Sleep Books, go here.