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New from Oystercatcher’s beak

New from Oystercatcher’s beak

Rouge States

                      by Alex Houen

Later Britain

                      by Ben Hickman

When I first glanced at Alex Houen’s ‘Eucalypso Redux’ sequence of six sonnets I was given a glimpse of an energetic vista of the dispersal of meaning and reconfiguration which resisted any notion of a charting singular centre: I was on the river ‘punting down a sequence of dolly- / shots and flashbacks called the Cam’; I was listening to the margins of language where ‘Blades / chop the building rush of dark internal river’; I was immersed in a world which seemed to owe debts to both Robert Browning and to J. H. Prynne. These poems are journeys of which Browning’s Pentapolin (‘Named o’ the Naked Arm’) could create a Sordello for us by taking a stand on the boat ‘pointing-pole in hand’; they are movements which present the reader with ‘gaps of explanation rolling like wheels contrary within themselves’ on one of Prynne’s Kazoo Dreamboats: ‘alien motions on fire with coriolis demeanour’. As Peter Riley puts it on the back cover of this delightful collection, this volume contains poetry

 

where any word, almost, can suddenly flip itself elsewhere without asking permission

 

When the words behave in this manner they return to the page like a Mobius Band: we have been transported elsewhere and recognise our departure point as both the same and radically different.

 

Turning to Ben Hickman’s chapbook I discovered myself more in the world of John Ashbery’s ‘System’ where the American poet wrote with a sense of energy and delight about ‘How we move around in our little ventilated situation’ whilst discovering ‘how roomy it seems’ and how ‘there is so much to do after all, so many people to be with…’

There is a generosity of humour in Ben Hickman’s poems and a manner of utilising common phrases without any sense of the cliché. These are poems written with mordant magnanimity: yes, he is generous but don’t fall foul of him!

 

I tell myself I’m in love, that I would cry out

into the tear-charged sky, my feet tingling

like spring grass, the underground river

rising through me. Oh Dave it’s you

as I dig down, distinguished for my skill

among Greeks everywhere.

 

As well as Ashbery’s voice I detect here a trace of the Charles Olson who concluded ‘The Kingfishers’ hunting among stones.

 

Ian Brinton 15th June 2014

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