– Reviewed by Grant Tarbard –
“Are you not entertained?” hollers this collection from Gary from Leeds, the nomenclature of Gary Hartley. Published by Listen Softly London, Your Attempt to Enjoy These Poems is Considered Unsatisfactory is a bid to put a stand-up’s poems in the ether, to transpose spoken word to page.
The book is split into Trivial Pursuit categories, such as Food & Drink or Sports & Leisure, indicating Gary’s wink to the camera, as if he’s a cheesy, glitter-blazered game show host.
The first section, Up & At ‘Em, begins with ‘Disclaimer for the Unwritten Poem’, repudiating the warranty of the reader. Imagine the apologies of Monty Python and the Holy Grail’s credits, held against their will and branded in a book, if you can. The poem is structured through short bursts, bullet-points of sarky waivers.
iii. Any line marked with an asterisk
Is a line brought to you
In a partnership with a commercial sponsor
Washing machines last longer with Calgon
Or else the asterisk is possibly
Just there for aesthetic effect
The poem works best when it’s concise:
iv. No possibles or other uncertainties
Will be clarified at any point
xii. This poem will not be used as
Evidence in a court of law or
A filling station forecourt
A slight bugbear for me is that the poem ends on a conjunction. Why not a noun or an adjective?
The second poem of the preamble is the eponymous ‘Your Attempt to Enjoy These Poems is Considered Unsatisfactory’. It’s rickety but decent, and mines the same vein:
If you’re not feeling this poem
your ears are on wonky –
full of wax or not properly
tuned to the dimension that
this poem chooses to operate in.
Mr Gary from Leeds snipes at all those polite, dull poetry readings, where decorum is dogma. He, with a raised eyebrow, insults the reader for not understanding the level he’s working on, calling them idiot, moron, sickpot and twit, before gracefully conceding that it could just be that the poem’s shit.
From 1. People & Places comes ‘Person Under a Train’, a nuanced poem about dissatisfaction and detachment, a huge lack of empathy evident when you turn your cheek. I picture the people on the platform tutting, not caring about the breakdown of this mass exodus of folks under the carriage, a protest against all the West is – filming it on their devices.
For once it wasn’t a euphemism.
They just crawled underneath
when it came to a halt
And now they’re taunting
the station staff
who are armed with brooms.
This collection works on two layers. It’s filled with a superficial schoolboy humour full of harmless sarcasm, not in a John Cooper Clarke style, but in a Rik from The Young Ones style:
And sometimes down
But always around.
Pollution, are you coming to my town?
Or am I coming to yours?
We’re on different buses, pollution
But we’re both using petrol.)
The second layer is more substantial, the shyness buried in ‘A Camden Venue’:
The cocks swing as if dancing with finals strapped to belts.
Crossing your legs, ashamed of your own.
I’ve seen clips of Gary reading his poems: that’s how they should be consumed. Ultimately, I think this should have been a decent pamphlet. Sniping at the bulwarks of poetry cliché doesn’t quite transcend the medium. Gary from Leeds labours to raise a titter or two; I gently acknowledge it. That’s nearly all that’s demanded of the reader, what the poetry sets out to do.