– Reviewed by Jamie Thrasivoulou –
I was lucky enough to share a stage with Martin Appleby back in March of this year; his poems came across really well in a live environment, and were drenched in sharp wit, humour and sturdy observation. From the get-go, Worse Things Happen At Sea is full of heartwarming sentimentality. The short but sweet offerings of ‘AFTER YOU LEFT’ and ‘ATTN PUNX’ are fine examples of less definitely being more. These poems look into the past, a theme that permeates the collection. The poet is not scared to write with vulnerability, although this is often masked by humorous overtones:
..I never missed
having an itchy beard
that smells of stale cigarette smoke
half as much
as I miss sleeping next to you
(‘AFTER YOU LEFT’)
‘ATTN PUNX’ also introduces a heart-on-sleeve punk influence, another theme present throughout Appleby’s poetry. ‘ENABLER’ speaks to us all regarding those moments in life when you really ought to stand up against something that you disagree with, but instead simply say nothing: ‘I became part of the problem’ is the concluding line, resonating with anybody who can put themselves in the writer’s shoes.
Another continuous theme throughout the collection is coming-of-age, albeit seemingly reluctantly in Appleby’s case. This is explored through simple drinking anecdotes, conversational extracts and reminiscing about gigs of old. Poems like ‘DAY DRUNK’ and ‘SON OF THE YEAR’ are hilarious in their overall why-do-we-drink? tone, but they leave the impression that Appleby doesn’t intend to stop anytime soon. The sincerity within these words is confessional, as if he is saying: I am what I am.
‘3 A. M.’ is a love poem about a girl the writer met at a gig by the fiery punk band The Filaments; Bukowski gets a mention here as well. This is of little surprise, as I’d suggest the low-life laureate is one of Appleby’s biggest influences. However, this is more like Bukowski minus the boasting.
‘BAD SUPPORTER’ takes us on a journey through male sibling rivalry, tackling the age-old-question of: “What football team do you support?” Anybody familiar with Arsenal v Tottenham rivalry will fully understand the debate that takes place here. The conclusion is particularly amusing; for a moment I thought that our author was outing himself as a Millwall die-hard. Needless to say I’m much happier when he reveals: ‘Today I support whoever my money is on or the players in my Fantasy team.’
‘AGAINST THE ROPES’ is still in sporting territory, discussing Appleby’s love of boxing (another Bukowski trait). The poem is a conversational piece between the poet and presumably a lover. This is simply brilliant, and inventive in the way it approaches the sensitive subject of the difference between wrestling and boxing. I shan’t spoil the surprise and instead would implore you to read it for yourself.
‘TEN YEARS’ fully confirms that Appleby has little intention of giving up the booze, a celebratory ode revelling in the glory of drinking legally for a decade. ‘FUCKING SOMEBODY ELSE’ is a poem that deals with the need for blokes to crack jokes at the most inappropriate times. This is again very Bukowski-esque, and certainly true to life.
‘NIGHTS LIKE THOSE’ tells a tale of young love, dealing with the reality that it rarely lasts forever. The title poem, ‘WORSE THINGS HAPPEN AT SEA’, is clearly signposted by Appleby as a reminder to himself and the rest of us that worse things definitely DO happen at sea, and you are just yet to experience them.
‘REJECTION’ illustrates the hardship of a night on the lash and the ever-increasing price demands of debauchery in the modern age. ‘WHY IS YOUR MOUSTACHE SHORTER THAN THE REST OF YOUR BEARD?’ Details the aftermath of such occasions. The poem opens with the lines: ‘I woke up with a split lip a busted nose and no memory’ and concludes ‘Another day on the front line in the war against myself’. Anybody who has been involved in any kind of drunken brawl will doubtless relate to the sentiment here.
‘THE ONLY RELIGION I NEED’ further emphasises Appleby’s love of music, and his rejection of religious beliefs:
I don’t believe in God or the devil
…But I have felt a bassline
reverberate through my entire body
(‘THE ONLY RELIGION I NEED’)
There are many gems in this collection, but my personal favourite is ‘ON THIS DAY (30th December 2016)’. The tone is more serious and less playful but still full of the honesty and sincerity present throughout Appleby’s work. The poem discusses negative circumstances and ponders the idea that maybe, sometimes, things really do happen for a reason, centring on the idea of loss both physically and emotionally. The final two stanzas display the writer at his straight-talking best:
The date of these events
But if neither had happened
We may never have met
And I will never
Not feel guilty
That you had to lose
For that to happen
(‘ON THIS DAY’)
The collection ends with the hilarious ‘Dreams’, which again I don’t want to spoil, as it’s simply brilliant. This collection will make you laugh, it will make you reminisce, and it will make you feel young, old, drunk, and hungover all at the same time. It is fantastic and hugely relevant poetry that manoeuvres through everyday human existence with ease and glorious insight.