The Bull by James Roome

-Reviewed by Paul Goring-

I need to come clean and admit up front that I really love this pamphlet. I have spent the two days since I finished reading it (for the third time) trying to pin down exactly why so I could share it with you, but I am still delightfully unsure.

The Bull of this collection has a magnificent presence, personality and paranoia about him. He contributes many voices; a scalding parent, a child-like innocent, a god-like, world-worn cynic, an experienced lover, an eccentric creative and a gentle, calming muse. Maybe this is essentially what I love, the fact that Bull offers the reader so much to unpick, consider and decide on and delivers it all in a compact, well-crafted pamphlet that cannot fail to intrigue the reader.

This is not a huge tome and can be read in perhaps five minutes; do not take it lightly though as despite its brevity it certainly has substance. You will go back and read it again (and possibly again after that; as I did) and each time a little more of the personality, charm and troubling contradictions and tensions of this pamphlet will present themselves to you.

From the opening lines where Bull asks ‘Where is this’ and ‘what’s that’ you know you are at the beginning; the birth of something, a realisation of a consciousness. The wonderfully informal yet challenging relationship between the narrator and Bull that evolves seems at times fraternal and close and at others fractious, distant and dysfunctional. 

I remained unsure throughout as to whether the voices were the narrator conversing with himself or another and whether the pamphlet describes the painful descent into madness or the heroic slaying of a monster and again I loved that. The ambiguity and challenging imagery Roome assaults you with ensures this is an intense and exciting read.   

Added to this, there is the ongoing threat of Bull with his ‘lengthy flanks’ and ‘muscular rump’ as well as his muzzle, teeth and spittle and that physicality is tangibly present throughout. This creates a marked tension leaving you unsure what will happen next…will Bull harm or nurture the ‘boy’ narrator.

 ‘As he sketched
leaves fell
buds appeared
Flowers shot red….’ 

With these lines, Bull is revealed as a coquettish, talented, artistic wordsmith. Roome’s use of sharp and clever line breaks reminds me of Nick Cave lyrics at their best (sexual, grungy and dark) and build tension toward a dramatic conclusion. 

The use of multi locations (beach, desert and road) and different times of day ‘caramel sun’ and ‘the moon still hung’ gives a real sense of scale and time passing in just a few pages. It feels epic as a piece of work and that is impressive given the brevity of the medium. The images Roome uses have a filmic quality, with a substance and personality that surprised me and I very much like being surprised by what words do to my imagination.  

My doubt about what is reality and what is fantasy in this pamphlet remains unresolved. Who is harmed and who does the harming is not clear. Is it a release or a defeat? You should go figure it for yourselves because there is much to ponder over, to enjoy revisiting and to debate with your favourite poetry buddy. For me I can only reflect that I now follow the writer on Twitter because I don’t want to miss his next pamphlet and future collections. I think that says it all about how much I enjoyed this!