Monday, December 17, 2012

Moonlight: after Paul Verlaine



Moonlight

after Paul Verlaine




So what of that night we ended up in some club,
dancing for the first time in years?
Again and again I was playing the chump
in the glitter of your perfect elegance.

You know I’ve this knack for self-sabotage –
trashing anything close to happiness –
though the countersunk bulbs in the ceiling
were stars, blinking back at your radiance.

How we stumbled into morning’s silence,
the full moon’s light like a torch left on,
setting off the sobs of the Peace Gardens’
fountains, and that snatch of purest birdsong.




poem by Ben Wilkinson



This poem is part of an ongoing portraiture project, in which I have drawn on the works of Paul Verlaine (1844-1896) to produce new poems of my own. It is also an attempt, in some small way, to honour and revivify interest in a great French poet whose work deserves to be held in higher regard. Other poems from this project have so far appeared in Poetry Review ('Joie de Vivre'; 'October') and the Times Literary Supplement ('The Nightingale'; 'The Young Fools').


Thursday, December 06, 2012

Review: Andrew Jamison's Happy Hour


Andrew Jamison’s debut collection, Happy Hour, is preoccupied with the towering themes of time and money, but the deceptions of “the clock on the wall” are a particular concern. Unable to buy into the world view of “The Starlings” where “a tick” is simply “a tick, a tock a tock, time time”, time and again the poet witnesses “obliterations of the commonplace”, whether in the form of optical illusion (a cinema’s “ocean / of curtained wall” recalled from childhood), “the strange behaviour of unnameable birds”, or the way that “nothing / comes but every way that nothing can”. Jamison knows that, however we spend our time, time spends us: the book’s title speaks of the fleeting nature of happiness and our clumsy pursuit of it, but also hints at the energetic, demotic, wistful yet upbeat tones the poems strike. Here is a poet with “disappointment deep / in the mayonnaise of my chicken sandwich”, but one who quickly catches himself out, exposing the artifice when
disappointment and nostalgia spray-paint themselves
onto this journey home.
Happy Hour is dominated by two types of poem: the intense vignette that takes a moment – the “after after-dinner” of a summer’s evening, or the confusion of shoppers in “Winter Clearance” – to plumb our modern lives for sense and significance; and a swiftly discursive, often longer single sentence piece that strings clauses together with half-rhymes and pulsing rhythms. The best – and indeed longest – of these, “Thinking About the Point of Things”, is a tour de force of personal, public and political dimensions, jumping from “placards of touched-up, / photoshopped, yet puffy, pasty-faced politicians”, through the redolent image of the garden’s “faded Gilbert rugby ball” and midges like “a swarm of small sun-gods” before arriving at a single robin, embodying a strange truth at the poem’s core. Elsewhere, a series of candid reflections take in a first trip to New York, in which Jamison’s eye for the telling detail and sense of humour meet head-on. A few of the book’s shortest pieces are probably too slight, indulging in nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake. While Happy Hour owes some obvious debts – Louis MacNeice, Paul Muldoon, Simon Armitage – it is an entertaining, enjoyable first collection that should attract admirers.



first published in the Times Literary Supplement