‘Contextual Studies’ by Rupert M Loydell – Broken Sleep Books

Rupert mnodot Loydell paperback front cover (002)

‘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
from twisting’

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
drink.’
[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
bleached out.’

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
congestion’
[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
moon’s shadow.’
[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
emotion.’

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.

‘The Unmoving’ by Maria Stadnicka – Broken Sleep Books

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‘they are only following orders’
[Thought 77]

and in this one familiar, lame excuse we sense the uselessness of criticism of those atrocities carried out on one another in our world.

As the UN Rohingya genocide report is just released, one wonders how this reveals anything in addition to what the whole world has already ‘witnessed’ [I acknowledge the colossal remove of this experience for most] at the actual time of its happening shown on our TVs: burning homes in the villages; the orderly horror of the escaping refugees.

In this constant context, The Unmoving by Maria Stadnicka probably doesn’t seek to move us – being realistic – but is so much more than reportage as its purposeful metaphors convey,

‘The gods hid in a poem
with a fresh loaf.

Just us now slicing away
to the end of my days’
[Restitutio]

Even the actual observers who report

‘I stumbled over a man in a pool of blood.
A bullet-hole in the back of his coat’

have their genuine care and concern usurped by a universally empty emotion expressed through the metaphor

‘A newspaper broke down in tears’
[both from Eyewitness 73]

It should be obvious, but I stress I am not dissing the metaphors. Their use in this collection matters and impacts, as

‘Death walked towards me, holding an empty paper-bag’
[Civil War]

One of the two opening epigraphs to this collection is from Czeslaw Milosz

‘So much guilt behind them and such beauty’

and in the poem Movement you will read this ironic beauty in its expression [and note also the irony within the book’s title].

You’ll find the pathos too of such beautiful expression in the poem Migrant Bites. Day One.

In the title poem, the brutal realities of our world occur for all kinds of direct human action or inaction, like its reference to Rana Plaza, the garment factory in Bangladesh that collapsed in May 2013 killing 1,134 and injuring 2,500 – the result of structural failure and the indifference of owners when knowing of this the day before its collapse.

At the poem’s end we read

‘The ground settled between reference points’

and to me this represents that settling – that ‘acceptance’ – we adopt in a world riven with such daily tragedy [like the Myanmar reality].

All of this is the

‘Unavoidable present’
[Germinal]

apart from the fact it is avoided, though quite clearly not in these poems, as the poetry itself asserts

‘Each unavoidable thing has a squeal of its own’
[Afterthought]

which also presents one of the more beautiful/horrific of the book’s images in referencing children’s teeth.

These are poignant and pertinent poems – and they do move, by the way – from Maria Stadnicka and are in another fine Broken Sleep Book publication you can get here.

‘My Converted Father’ by Sarah Law – Broken Sleep Books

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I do like this idea of a ‘converted father’, someone who after his passing is returned in the poetry his daughter writes as a dialogue with and an impression of their continuing relationship. That this continuance – this conversion – depends on memory of the past in all of its potent detail as well as complete fabrication then and now makes poetic truths anew, this in the writing and, presumably, our reading and imagining.

In the opening poem Calls, we see the beginning of the tender exchanges that occur in the ruse of the present which surely reflects moments from the past when

‘My converted father calls me occasionally.
It’s usually night-time. Have you got home safely?
He tells me he has but can’t remember

the route he took…’

and in this sharing of the inquiry, father and daughter merge, especially in the poem’s sweet ending.

The subterfuge explored in Coffee indicates a past where the every day experiences built mutual trust, and in Tai Chi we sense a father’s ‘teaching’ [I wouldn’t want to overstate] that had/has an impact,

‘As with any battle, you remind me,
impetus, resistance
come from within.’

There is a narrative line to this collection and in these first poems the father/daughter relationship is conveyed through childhood references to school and riding bikes, and in Risk, a warning about boys, but also in Spell an evocation of how this past is so much a part of the converted present,

‘I was drawn by these things in my youth, he confesses.
How old are you now? I ask.
I’m as light as the air that you breathe, he replies.’

and the continued sharing offered in that last line is again sweetly tender.

The poem Morse sends its clever signal about a father communicating from another place, no longer the morse code of the past, but

‘Now I’m converted into pure medium’

and for pure beauty there is the expression of the change that obviously exists between the then and now – despite the time-capsule of these poetic shares – in the poem Light.

I could write about each poem to revel in the pleasure of my reading, but the task here is to enthuse and entice. I will, however, mention the final two poems in this narrative thread.

Names addresses the father’s dying and final wishes, and in ‘the bedroom with its pool-blue walls’ where Law and her father are together there is more fine poetry to express fondness and purpose way beyond the maudlin. In the final poem Skye ‘When you were in the hospice’, the poet creates a detail to convert the storytelling into an imaginary moment, and the unknown merges with the experienced and it is made memorable.

Broken Sleep Books is a newish press run by founder Aaron Kent and associate editor Charlie Bayliss. They have a fine current and emerging list of publications presented simply as attractive but unadorned chapbooks that focus on the work inside. For more details about Sarah Law’s My Converted Father and to buy, go here.

Top Fifty 41: Curved Air – Air Conditioning, 1970

[Originally posted January 2012]

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Curved Air wasn’t the first band to use rock [amplified] violin – East of Eden, Mercator Projected, and The Flock and It’s a Beautiful Day with eponymous albums all released these violin-full debuts in 1969, and there were others, as well as jazz examples, but these didn’t have Sonja Kristina on lead vocal, or the songwriting slant of classically trained Darryl Way and Francis Monkman.

The line-up for this first outstanding album is: Sonja Kristina – lead vocals; Darryl Way – electric violin and vocals; Francis Monkman – lead guitar, organ, piano, mellotron, electric harpsichord, special effects equipment and VCS3 synthasizer [sic]; Robert Martin – bass guitar; Florian Pilkington-Miksa – drums: all as written on the cover. The title is presented as both Air Conditioning [on the spine] and Airconditioning [on the cover]. A final piece of straight detail is that this release was one of, if not the first LP picture discs made for commercial release. I didn’t get – definitely couldn’t afford – the picture disc when I purchased in 1970, but have acquired one since.

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The album begins with the memorable It Happened Today, and it’s Kristina’s vocal that dominates first for me. But the piano chords are pounding their accompaniment, as is the bass line and the thundering drums. Lead guitar runs throughout. All this heads to the sudden shift of Way’s melodic and flowing violin solo, accompanied by a distinctive bass line and swirling background synth. Second Stretch is an anthemic number with its simple but rousing six-beat rhythm, and the distinctive feature in this song is the rise to a violin and guitar duel where the dissonant conflict rises further to a crescendo that breaks back to the anthem of its melodic line. This is followed by the equally memorable Screw which slows the pace and has the violin lead the melody which is picked up by Kristina. There are orchestrated bars and then the violin rises, again, to a peak with organ reverberations and it is all highly charged in its beautifully melodramatic construction.

The album is replete with such finely crafted numbers. Side one ends with Way’s brilliant instrumental Vivaldi. Here is the electric rock violin played in all of its virtuoso pomp and power. This playing is ably supported by the driving rhythms of bass, drum and lead guitar, but it is Darryl Way’s composition that merges rock raunchiness with lyrical strains and the at times moody tones, echoed and fuzzed as the song builds and builds. I was lucky enough to see them play this live in Ipswich on their first tour, and it was in the relatively small Arts Theatre/Centre where the power and volume of this tour de force was wall-shatteringly stunning, as it was to differing degrees when I saw them in South Devon at the Malborough Village Hall in 2008. On side two of the vinyl there is another Way instrumental, this time the sweetly short and soft Robert Martin penned Rob One. The penultimate track Situations – before the short reprise of Vivaldi to close out the side – utilises Monkman’s synthesisers to the full and is perhaps the most prog-rock sound of the whole album.

The picture below is used for Curved Air’s more recent Retrospective compilation album and if you wanted to sample beyond their first – and don’t fancy obtaining all [but I would recommend this!] – then here is a good place to start.

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Boris Doesn’t Care, But I Still Do

silentpoet

I had initially wondered about the good sense of writing about BJ, criticism ironically providing as much oxygen for his vile continuance as support – and he still hasn’t apologised nor does this fact appear to be worth pursuing by the press/public any more – but I persevered and with thanks to Reuben it is now posted at exactly the right venue for such a rejection of silence.