– Reviewed by Penny Boxall –
Though light in physical weight, Rupert M. Loydell’s Reasons is a seriously heavy volume. The first section is obsessed with seeking – and often failing to find – reason in music, other people, even fairground attractions. This is a collection about the desperate weight of absence, and its almost physical pressure on the soul.
Faith is here, but doesn’t really solve anything. “Sunday’s refrain is not enough”, says the sad, lonely voice in ‘The Dead Never Die’. These poems are hard to read with a light heart.
With such hearty subject matter, a minor quibble: it is a shame that there are typos, notably in the very first poem. “Emotionlal trauma” looks like a failed attempt at ‘emotion-lol’, which would almost have worked, if it had actually been intended. However, the poet is consistently good at opening and at closing poems; like a good short story writer, he knows narrative technique. ‘I Had My Reasons (Hold Tight)’ begins with the compelling
It was the time when I had baths,
several baths a day, to calm myself.
A semi-aquatic, no-man’s-land life is thus described between calming water and frantic air. Often the poems occupy gaps between two states: between life and death, happiness and despair, thinking and doing. Progressing further into the collection, I feel increasingly torn in loyalty between the active and the passive. For example, ‘Beyond Reason’ begins:
I should be dead soon, read his text,
but I didn’t know if it was a self-aimed
imperative, or an update from the front
line of another suicide attempt.
Turns out to have been the latter.
There is a wry weariness to these lines, deftly managed. From the unattributed quotation at the opening (which at first makes the poem seem first-person confessional), to the bleak comedy of the speaker’s confusion (the term ‘update’ for such a missive suggests the Twitter-feed), to that quiet final sentence, Loydell establishes our sympathies firmly with the speaker and the interlocutor: no mean feat.
The second section, ‘Vanishing Point’, introduces a more formal risks, and opens with a great image in ‘There You Go’: “the time you laid my motorbike down / in front of a bus in Trafalgar Square / or skateboarded on to Western Avenue / only damaging your expensive watch” has a wry humour which calls to mind Michael Laskey.
One of the best poems in the collection, ‘Ghost Train’, is similarly well-handled; like a good butler, it knows where to place itself discreetly, not announcing itself, while all the time assisting the reader more than she knows. Fears are easily dismissed – “spooks / are made of sheets and wire” – but the humdrum horror of life must be attended to: “You have another funeral to go to, / another memorial stone to build…” It has an ending as clear as a bell:
to have an ancient building
bending in the breeze, or a sentence
that leaves you guessing, when you
don’t know what anything means.
Here is the redeeming note that is absent in some of the other, bleaker, poems: wonder is to be found, still, in things we don’t always understand. This is a brave and somehow triumphant poem, which mellows and broadens on re-reading.