The Mile Long Piano
Ragged Raven Poetry (2007); pp. 88; £7
By Tom Jenks
According to the back cover of this book, Andy Fletcher was founder (and only member) of Revetisana (revolutionary vegan tigers supporters against nuclear arms). It is good to know that all that tofu is being put to good use, perhaps to befuddle the sonar of Trident submarines or foul the flight path of the odd missile. With such important work to do and so many trips to Holland & Barratt to make, itís amazing he found time to write a book. I am glad that he did.
The poems themselves, whilst not quite revolutionary, are certainly different, fresh and engaging. The focus here is primarily the everyday world, but from an off-centre viewpoint and with a dash of sidelong surrealism which I enjoyed. I particularly liked the prose poems that pepper this collection which are meanderingly discursive and shaggily Shandyesque without being rambling or inconsequential. Cat sequence was perhaps my favourite of these, which manages to take in football, the invention of catsí eyes and what can found behind the panel of the poetís bath in the space of a page. These unpunctuated stream of consciousness style pieces can often be forced and leaden, but the touch here is light and sure, the voice fluid. I also liked man and horse, which describes a man leading a horse across the sea, with the poet speculating what this vision means:
i could be the man or the horse, the man in a grey jacket and worn boots, the horse with a bare patch on one of its flanks. i could even be the rope connecting them, a wet rope with a few frayed strands.
The rest of the collection is written in free verse with irregular stanzas, a format that suits the poems well. The tone throughout is informal, conversational and never intrusive, with the content and movement of each piece being allowed to determine its form and structure. Many of these poems are about people and the always complex, often difficult, relationships between them. The cool, restrained, uncluttered style works well with this, nicely counterpointing the often emotive content, highlighting it by throwing it into relief. A good example of this is fifteen, which is about a tentative same-sex experience in a school cloakroom. Many poets would wring a poem like this dry, put it through a mangle, iron it and leave it on the radiator for a few hours to be sure that every last mililitre of pathos and emotion had been extracted from it. Fletcherís treatment, by contrast, is sparse and restrained, letting the precise and carefully wrought images do the work:
i couldnít separate truth from truth
i crept away into an innocent forest
where coats hung
from the branches
Some of the shorter poems are almost Japanese in their economy and concision. Writing a good poem is as much about leaving things out as putting things in and Fletcher is definitely a master of leaving things out, meaning that what is left in is lean, powerful and sometimes mysterious, as in caravan in the nettles:
the door is off its hinges
dead leaves on whatís left of a cushion
your folded sunglasses still there
nobodyís ever asked me and iíve never told them
This is a well written and enjoyable collection which is both humorous and touching, often at the same time and has moments of great seriousness and profundity without ever being sombre or heavy. These poems remind us that we do not have to look to the heavens for meaning and significance: it is all around us in the people that we know, the things that we see, the words that we speak and the thoughts that we think. They also, with their subtle swoops and swerves of syntax and sense, their mercurial mutations from a start point of apparent simplicity, remind us that how things are is not how things will always be, as in at any moment:
at any moment
the universe may turn itself inside out
and then where would we be
with out carrier bags full of bargains?