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Blog Review 3 – Steven Waling Reviews Rupert Loydell’s ‘Wildlife’

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. ]

Wildlife by Rupert Loydell is published by Shearsman Press, £8.95)

[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’.]

This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. I enjoyed the book myself, Vivienne. What Steve writes is spot on, although…oh, how to express this!… although the poems are written in plain, simple language, somehow they turn out not be simple at all by the time you’ve finished them.

  2. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of Loydell before. Thank you for bringing him to my attention. The extracts really appealed to me.
    I agree with Rob’s comment – the poems are not as simple as they at first seem.

  3. If people click on the “Animals are not your friends’ link in the review, it takes you to a Loydell poem and if you keep clicking the ‘next’ button at that link, you can read four of these poems, which should give you the general idea.

  4. Great review, both for the specifics about Loydell and for what’s said in the first paragraph. Much as I like Larkin, Bishop and Bunting, I also like poets like Loydell who just get on and write.

    I can recommend his earlier collection The Museum Of Light, too, if anyone’s looking to read more.

  5. I’m a student at Falmouth and have had Rupert teaching me. While a lot of my classmates struggled with his seminars, I found them to be refreshing as he never asked us to revisit the poems we would write down an a short few minutes, but to expand on them in different ways until we could find something that we liked.
    I’m currently reviewing his 2015 book of poetry, The Return of the Man Who Has Everything for one of my class assessments and it’s great to be able to see a different side to the writer than just as ‘a lecturer’. (How’s he’ll react when he finds out is another matter.)

    I do agree with you though. There are some that I do not like anywhere near as much as some others of his, and sometimes, even just one singular phrase makes the entire poem.

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