I found a lovely review by Andrew Taylor of my poetry collection West South North, North South East in The Journal, Sam Smith’s heroic poetry magazine from Wales. My thanks to both of them. Sometimes, I don’t know where any of us would be without the small presses.
Following a Red Ceilings Press pamphlet, Daniel Bennett’s debut full collection is a treat. Divided into three titled sections, the reader is transported into a world chiefly of the urban, but with minor detours into the rural.
The opening section, ‘Lorca In South London’ is reminiscent of the best of the city poets, such as Roy Fisher and Ken Smith. Reading ‘Back With The Boys,’ I’m particularly reminded of Smith’s seminal London poem, ‘Fox Running.’ Bennett describes the ‘city of dirty cardboard / where we all knew an ex-member of The Fall.’ And Bennett skilfully paints a world ‘before restauranteurs ruled Soho […]’ and all the horribleness of regeneration.
The sensory aspects of the city, so often the focus is on what we see, are captured in ‘Three Scent Bottle’. Unsurprisingly, the poems is in three parts, each of five unrhymed quatrains. There is a slightly surreal undertone to the opening stanza:
Inside the limits of a corner room
we navigated traffic,
a junction of coal and tar
pouring over us as we slept
and the ‘gummy pine of yellow fences / chased us past the cinema / while our fathers painted with creosote / through spring into summer […].’
London, which is at the heart of the book, is name-checked in the final stanza of the second part:
[…] the hardened to thin wood,
like the dried limes sold
back on Blackstock Road.
Despite this feeling like a London book, other cities make an appearance . ‘Carcassonne’ where the voice notes ‘You imagine the model of the perfect city, / conceive a map in the Carcassonian mode’ teases with the notion of town planning, and the fallacy of the perfect city.
As noted earlier, this is not solely a book about cities. When Bennett pushes away from the urban — and let’s not forget that the best urban poets write about nature– there is a solid consistency as the reader ventures into the undergrowth, as it were.
‘Driving Through Snowdonia’ with its ‘patchwork country […] frayed/ at the edges: green and violet, / rust and scree’ is not only a brilliant evocation of the place as remembered from a child’s perspective, but possibly a metaphor for these divided islands. Similarly, ‘Chinook’ with the machine’s ‘thudded pulse’ utilises the man-made to disturb the tranquility of:
Summer. Elderflower rains
in white bursts. The sky beyond
is a vast imagination
flickering with dreams.
The third section of the book, ‘Landscape With Man In High-Vis Jacket and Alpaca’ is more personal. There is a wider sense of reflection. Landscape appears once more, and the poems further highlight Bennett’s skill. From the titular poem of the section, we wondered [sic] images such as: ‘The floods lay clean across the plains […]’ and ‘a toothbrush of distant birches/ defined a rural avenue […]’ Sterling stuff.
This is a strong collection of work and one that is worth reading and re-reading. Bennett is a poet whose work is worth seeking out. I for one will be tracking down his Red Ceilings Press pamphlet. Highly recommended.