BARRY TEBB: CLOSING NOSTALGIA ROAD
89 Connaught Rd
BARRY TEBB: KISSING COBBLESTONES IN KEIGHLEY
BARRY TEBB: BRIDGE OVER THE AIRE
ISBN 0 9529994 0 4
BARRY TEBB: COLLECTED POEMS
ISBN 0 9529994 1 2
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|BARRY TEBB: CLOSING NOSTALGIA ROAD|
Many of the poems in this selection look back, appraising a life lived fully; there are poems about Tebb's time as a school teacher, his birthplace Leeds, his marriage and his poetic contemporaries.
His poems about childhood convey that immediacy of memory recollected with the cold eye of distance and loss: — LEFTOVERS
I was a very small teddy-bear crouched on a huge and broken chair Ready to be put off into the wide world and my mother was there To see me off. The light in her eyes was out, there was no fire In her heart and the binyard where I played was empty space.The poems set in Leeds and Haworth powerfully express a sense of place and time: — A FINE MADNESS
Rainy, windy, cold Leeds City Station Half-way through its slow chaotic transformation Contractors' morning break, overalls, hard hat and harness Flood McDonalds where I sip my tea and try to translate Valéry.The surveys of his contemporaries whether in the poetic or psychoanalytic fields are incisive and Augustan; in NEW YEAR POEM FOR JEREMY REED, Tebb proclaims
Rejection doesn't lead me to dejection But to inspiration via irritation Or at least to a bit of naughty new year wit — Oh isn't it a shame my poetry's not tame Like Rupert's or Jay's —CLOSING NOSTALGIA ROAD is a solid and interesting selection of Tebb's work; his is a strong and matured voice. The only jarring notes in this selection are Tebb's poems about his young student Sheila which read uncomfortably in our suspicious post-Lolita age; it is almost impossible to read these lines from the opening poem MY PERFECT ROSE in the spirit they are probably intended:
At ten she came to me, three years ago, There was 'something between us' even then
|Reviewer: L. Kiew.|
|BARRY TEBB: KISSING COBBLESTONES IN KEIGHLEY|
The title poem,
I could bend and kiss them, everyone Strong and securing As cunts are soft and beckoningsets the tone: masculine with an adolescent's desire to shock, yet the assonance and alliteration suggest the writer is aware of poetry, if given to didactic pronouncements and a hagiographic nostalgia for the working classes: from NB THREE SONGS FOR MAYDAY MORNING FOR JC OF THE TLS
...O for the secret anima of Leeds girlhood A thousand times better than snide attacks in the TLS By JC. Fuck you, Jock, you should be ashamed, Attacking Brenda Williams, who had a background Worse than yours, an alcholic schizophrenic father And an Irish immigrant mother who died When Brenda was fifteen. But she still managed to read Proust on her day off...continues
...And my lacerating attacks on boring Bloodaxe Neil Ghastly and Anvil's preciosity and all the Stuck-up arse-holes in their cubby-holes sending out Rejection slips by rote...ending
...Underground poets of Albion unite It's time to clear the literary world of shite.which is no more than a prosaic rant and a not particularly well-argued one either. There are no days off from poverty and literary criticism should be of the merit of the work, regardless of the dis/advantages the writer had to overcome to get published.
Wires toss in the wind, shrubs flap And the tape on the windows wakes us To March's mistral madness: I see white crocuses amid the rain.Shows Barry Tebb knows how to write poems, when he can focus on specifics.
|Reviewer: Emma Lee.|
|BARRY TEBB: BRIDGE OVER THE AIRE|
A mass of poems (over two thousand lines) revisiting the Leeds of the poet's youth, and endless poems on his lost puppy love, Margaret, a North English Beatrice to the poet's rather grim Dante. The selection is subtitled THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A POET, and is divided into six books, each book divided into a numbered sequence of poems, ranging from fifteen to sixty-eight per book. Poems relive his childhood; intricate yet totally accessible poems whirl around the haunts of his youth:
By Kirkgate Market Alone at night I wandered The Parish Church's Stone lit by a Hundred bulbs but Its graveyard Shifted aside.He draws some concise, incisive images, as with the foremen with their
clipped wire Spectacles over their ears, humming and Hawing and blowing their noses into Huge white handkerchiefsA photograph taken in 1905 is deftly described:
The long exposure Caught every movement In a single frame The pensioner shuffling With his stick The girl tying A ribbon In glowing sepia A tiny kingdom Swept away before I was born.Barry Tebb is of course only too aware of his own temporal frailty as he visits the scenes of his early life:
At fifty-four my dreams Have ceased, the bowling green At Eastend Park has goneHe recalls places and buildings, many no longer standing, and people, family and acquaintances as well as his first love. Often he mingles scenes/images from his youth with those of his return visit, creating that special effect of a frame within a frame, a picture within a picture, in a spatial amalgam of different times:
The bridge to nowhere Stands in the abandoned goodsyard With the weighbridge I danced on Still holding me between Its sheets of steel.The childhood memory itself is both distant and near, a dead image caught in the all-too-knowing resignation of middle age. Another example is where he revisits the streets of his first romance:
And the streets were As they had been Never and always Bathed in perpetual sunlight With no mothers to call us No darkness falling The light of twilight Unending.In visiting the haunts of his youth he details all the places that have changed or the buildings that have been or are being demolished:
In Golden Acre Park no more The miniature Railway, boating On the lake with motor launch Or self-propelled boat, No more the water chute, Pitch and putt golf, aviary Paddling pool, aeroflight, Bathing Pool, music tower, All, all are gone.The desolation and desertion of the scenes he revisits colour his memories:
Over the Hollows Weeds on filled-in cellars Cracked window-sills At crazy angles Are megaliths to memory.He recalls his history with Margaret, and rather overdoes both the painstakingly-detailed memories and the sexual itchiness encroaching old age has imbued those reminiscences with. He manages to find her in the end (whether in reality or imagination) in order to consummate their relationship after forty years:
When I put my tongue Inside you, your body Shook with all the tears Of forty years.The poems repeat and repeat something approaching an unhealthy mania to repossess his unconsummated first love:
Why can't I find you, Touch you, Bind your straw-gold hair The colour of lank February grass?There are many fine pieces of work here despite the caveat that he is engaged in a journey of rather excessive egotism and self-obsession. He at one stage clumsily sees himself with his memories of dire poverty and direr fish and chips as an Odysseus returning to his native land; later he lumps together Eurydice and his own beloved Margaret; and as he searches for her, he invokes the spirits of Leeds' Saxon past. He imagines scenes by the Aire to have been painted by Van Gogh or Vermeer, and other scenes in Leeds, often recalled by their association with Margaret, are compared to Versailles or Troy. He quite baldly and unashamedly states that Margaret is his muse, his Madonna:
At ten my adoration of you was total, At fifty-four it is somewhat greater: I place you among the angels and madonnas Of the quattrocento, Raphael and Masaccio And Petrarch's sonnets to Laura.The powerful sentiments he expresses are perhaps a little too monotone, their uncritical face-value seriousness at times verging on a parody of the poetry of a more heroic and sententious age:
Margaret you rode in the hollow of my hand In the harp of my heart, searching for you I wandered in Kirkgate Market's midnight Down avenues of shuttered stalls, our secrets Kept through all the years.The portentous intent and tone of the poetry, the poet's anguish over his lost love and his manic quest to recapture it, is juxtaposed rather gratingly with the drab reality of the squalid, decaying streets of present-day Leeds where he conducts his search:
The search for John Eaton Street Is planted in the back garden Of the transport cafe between The strands of a wire mesh fence Straddling the cobbles of a street That is no more, a washing line And an abandoned caravan.Memories and regrets, and the constant repetition of loss, and the frantic nature of his search for remnants of his youth all blend together into a quasi-mystical journey through Leeds:
I am leaving the holy city of Leeds For the last time for the first time Leaded domes of minarets in Kirkgate Market, the onion-dome of Ellerby Lane School, the lands of my childhood empty Or gone.There is more or less a deification of Margaret, out of a seemingly intense sexual frustration he turns her into an empty bottle he can pour all his sexual exaggerations and obsessions into:
Breath and rhythm Now and always Heart and head Sister, lover, Bride and mother.Probably most of our lives are far too humdrum and mundane to merit such a mass of poems, and memories of infantile romances should not really be bulked out into a never-ending wad of verse; we are hardly normally the stuff of Greek heroes and their momentous lines. Nevertheless we have to admire Barry Tebb's fearless and unembarrassed positioning of himself and his ordinary past centre-stage, a giant in his autubiographical reworking of the self's images, thoughts and memories into a vast heroic tapestry where love and hope are not allowed to shrivel away, and where he can cancel out passing, lost years and their blasted hopes in a middle-aged consummation of his desires. This is an admirable, brave and impressive, albeit at times irritatingly egocentric piece of work.
|Reviewer: Alan Hardy.|
|BARRY TEBB: COLLECTED POEMS|
Barry Tebb has mythologised his life, which is something only true poets do. From his childood love for Margaret Gardiner- first of four "muses" and Laura to his Petrach- through his troubled marriage to fellow poet, Brenda Williams, down to his more recent spats with the magazine editors and other minor authorities who are wary of him and his work- every incident stands out clear, bright and significant. It is a life lived to effect, in which the incidental becomes universal. When Tebb has a run-in with the local librarian who refuses to stock his pamphlets and then slaps him with a huge fine for unreturned books, I'm reminded of Blake turfing the drunken soldier Schofield out of his Shoreham garden or Van Gogh cutting off his earlobe to teach some oblivious whore a lesson.
Apart from the events of his dedicated life, Tebb's great subject is his native City of Leeds. He drops its place names and personalities into his poems the way Blake did those of his London and Sussex landscapes. He is belligerently of the people, an angry working-class laureate and the people of Leeds should be as proud of him as he is of them. He has included them in his bid for immortality and they move through his poems in a light that is more than that of common day.
Like Blake, Van Gogh and so many other artists, Tebb is obviously- on the evidence of his own work- an awkward man. He promotes himself in ways that others find threatening, he is too intense for his own good and he takes it personally when people say "no" to him. He's not a man for schmoozing and he hates the poets of the New Gen. He had an early run of career success- when he was featured in Horowitz's epoch-defining anthology CHILDREN OF ALBION- but now the poetry establishment ignores him.
Well, shame on the poetry establishment! Tebb may not be a great poet (he is not enough of a verbal magician for that) but he is raw and authentic and entirely his own man. The poems (often individually slight) build on one another and cross-reference and create a world of experience I find convincing and deeply moving. This is a hard-won poetry with a solidity about it that suggests that it's here to stay.
|Reviewer: Tony Grist.|