There are 18 items in this collection of items titled Items; however, we could call them poems, partly because they appear via the fine The Red Ceilings Press known for publishing poetry, but also because they look like poems, though they also look like prose so we could call them prose poems and they are written in stanzas or paragraphs so could definitely be either or the combo.
And I should stop there in case I get accused of copying a style.
But I will just dance a little bit more by saying that two fine poets Ian McMillan and Steve Spence write in their back-cover blurbs about Martin Stannard as a poet – McMillan describing him generously and correctly as ‘a major British poet’, and although Spence doesn’t actually use the word ‘poet’ he is, like McMillan, referencing Stannard’s previous work Poems for the Young at Heart – and what is also interesting here is how they both mention his mix of, respectively, ‘the avant-garde meets the mainstream’ and ‘the mainstream combines with the avant-garde’, so I wonder if they colluded – like some other important people in the world – and also ask myself if this is a euphemism for poetry that is actually accessible yet lively or some kind of temptation to the broadest church of readers possible?
And, as I said, I need to stop unless I sound like someone else reviewing a book of poems, as delighted as I would be to sound like that person, on this occasion.
On the mainstream/avant-garde curve, I am a little uncertain where that actually places Stannard. I do know that he has a playful and elusive and adventurous style of writing, certainly not ‘conventional/traditional’ in a mainstream sense, but not experimental, I don’t think, in the concrete poem end of a curve sense. I think of the Eric E. poems* – and Eric E. is a very, very close friend of Stannard’s – and these are certainly accessible if obtuse in their often apparently literal inquisitions and so on, and being such an influence in Stannard’s work I don’t then see him as either mainstream or avant-garde in that stated dichotomy even as merged [*read Martin Stannard’s interview with Eric Eric in Decals of Desire #3 here to experience some of that influence in being elusive and, as some might see it but some not, playfulness].
But all of that is history and therefore historical, as a certain Mrs Baxter would say, and turning to the items in this collection they are, without doubt, poetic. There are elements of the found in them – and I can prove this, but you’ll find that out for yourself, hopefully having read all of them first – and I think they are definitely lyrical, especially in the constant referencing to the sea and water and how this in reality and metaphorically has an impact on us as people who might live near it or at least read about it, as in ITEM 1,
‘If I stare long enough at the line dividing sky and sea
An idea comes into my head
Please come and write that water with me’
and whilst there is no manifesto in this collection of poems, and there wouldn’t, this could be one in the way it elicits the reader-response in finding/forming meaning/impression when experiencing these poems.
In as much as we build meaning from what we experience, lived or vicarious, rain in the form of weather perhaps can impact on our perception structures,
‘But if the weatherman is right
The tree house will not see the night through
The tree too, for that matter’
and the lyrical with its inherent pathos comes upon us now and again as a surprise,
‘These days full of water remind me of cataracts
And how they are tears
Shed by an immense abandoned lover’
The poem ITEM 9 says something to me about Stannard as a poet being imaginative as a writer, both in terms of the unusual in evocation and as a declarative – not manifesto – about how to see the world and write about it, with this stanza,
‘I wish water could be persuaded to burn
The corners of the room are dark
And only one of us is awake or half-awake’
and with this one,
‘Caress the keys of the typewriter as if
They’re the sensitive parts of someone you admire
Have an active imagination or no imagination at all’
And yes the poems deal in all aspects of love and sexuality, these core elements in our fluid lives, so in ITEM 12, Stannard refers to ‘my love’ with
‘I have plans for her
To one day wear my freedom fighter’s hat
She looked pretty hot in that Salvation Army uniform’
Not that any of this relaxes Stannard, as you will find by the end, or in the disliking he expresses in ITEM 8. The water in the poem is therefore tidal so flows both ways or, to be precise, many ways, which might be why there are no full stops, but I wouldn’t call that avant-garde.
Read this in one wonderful go, perhaps in a kitchenette where a blackbird can keep you company, and I’m not kidding. I think this is where we can go with poetry like this that isn’t anchored as much is. And I haven’t mentioned the lines in italics and there is a good reason for this.
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