Rupert Loydell is not one of those poets who will publish a mere 100 or so gems of perfect poetry over a whole lifetime. He’s not Larkin, or Bishop, or Bunting. He’s more like Emily Dickinson, or John Ashbery: he writes a lot of poems and sends them out into the world, and isn’t afraid of over-production. I find this refreshing myself: but inevitably, it means that among the books, pamphlets and collaborations he’s sent forth over the years, there will be some poems that work for me and others that don’t.
Like Ashbery, his poems are basically about his life and times; unlike Ashbery, though they sometimes use cut-n-paste techniques and are sometimes humorous, there’s none of the odd angles and non-sequiturs of the New York poet. These poems are often in plain, simple language, often conversational and personal, with a kind of resigned grace to them that is very appealing to me:
I don’t know what to do with my arms.
They fall off the sides or end up numb
under the pillow. Spiders build nests
in my arm pits and my muscles won’t
work in the morning. I don’t know what
to do with my head.
(‘When I Sleep’)
Wildlife is in many ways not very different from his previous Shearsman collections. There are the Animals Are Not Your Friends poems, interspersed throughout the collection, which meditate on various subjects but seem increasingly aware of mortality, and there are poems about family and art, poems which may or may not be collages. Rupert Loydell’s world is strangely beautiful, or beautifully strange, but it’s also strangely familiar. He writes about middle-class family life, holidays and children growing up, in ways that make them seem like the freshest of subjects, because there is always the sense of the intangible behind his words:
Symbols and cymbals glitter
in the mirrored distance,
These moments do not reflect,
do not compute; it’s a good job
we have email or I’d never be able
to write to myself.
(‘Not Made to Last’)
I suspect he’s not as well-known in poetry circles as he perhaps should be because he’s never gone the poetry career route, and his Stride website can contain some very trenchant and sometimes unfair reviews (usually not written by him, though). He’s non-mainstream without being massively experimental, though he is prepared to experiment when he thinks it necessary.
What I like about Loydell’s work is his commitment to a kind of truth, not to experience so much as to language. He doesn’t fuss over his language, he’s never showing off his clever images, or making you gasp as he steps over rhetorical tall buildings with his wit. He can be witty, he shows his intelligence all the time, but he never shows off about it. To me, that’s a great virtue, and long may he produce more of it.
Steven Waling[Steven Waling’s last two collections are Captured Yes (Knives, Forks and Spoons Press, 2009) and Travelator (Salt, 2007). He lives in Manchester. ]
[for blog review 2, see Cath Nichols on Gregory Wood’s ‘An Ordinary Dog’.]
[for blog review 1, see Mark Burnhope on Katy Evans-Bush’s ‘Egg Printing Explained’.]
Wildlife by Rupert Loydell is published by Shearsman Press, £8.95)