BERNARD LANDRETH: GIVE OR TAKE
Red Squirrel Press
PO Box 219
ISBN 978 0 9554027 0 8
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|BERNARD LANDRETH: GIVE OR TAKE|
Right from the morning glory of the first surprising poem, Bernard Landreth's collection GIVE OR TAKE lays its cards on the table.
I wake — hot, unfocused and primed for fathering.This is a forthright expression of masculinity. The second surprise of the collection is the realisation that the masculine themes on which Landreth dwells best — futile arousal, fatherly impotence — are rarely touched upon in poetry generally. At first this seems impossible. It is a truism, surely, that the subjective female is the neglected one? And perhaps, after all, my view is skewed. Perhaps, a girls' girl, I simply do not read enough male poets. But if 'masculine' poetry is preoccupied with the public sphere once dominated by men, and its successor 'feminine' poetry is concerned with the private sphere in which the woman was once ensconced, it begins to seem quite plausible that the masculine private sphere be the most neglected of all. If so, Landreth is addressing it.
Often the theme here is loneliness. This work is sparsely populated by grown ups other than the subjective I. But, as if in their stead, it is black with birds — the feathered sort, if we are to be literal. In one poem — NEW YEAR 2 - Landreth makes the double entendre explicit with a play on words. The speaker and a lone jackdaw watch a couple of other jackdaws preen:
two loners share an empty boast — a past of pulling birds — then share my toast.In another — TO BE — a Spring scene complete with bird fails to bring the expected epiphany.
With a dense network of connections between poems, GIVE OR TAKE comes close to being one whole thing. But it fails in this. It is simply too unwieldy. It is more than a collected poems but less than a volume, since a volume should be a poem of its own, constructed with the same thought and care. There is no clear reason for the decision to split the collection unevenly in four, unless perhaps a surplus of pieces. There are surely better and less indulgent ways to approach that problem.
I liked this book least when it veered, which it did, towards the obnoxious. SMALL TALK, for example, brings us swaying from the sublime to the merely opinionated in a way my mother would characterise as passremarkable. The observation that small talk is
social grooming by primates with no nits or fleas to pickbrings us nowhere new. It lacks empathy, the tentative exploration inwards of a thing or feeling or event that is found in the best poetry. It is evident from other poems that Landreth need not pull himself up short in this way. He is capable of diving toward the core. And if I sound dismissive, I don't mean to. GIVE OR TAKE is a thing with very beautiful parts.
|reviewer: Ailbhe Darcy.|