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Love’s by Lou Rowan (Oystercatcher Press)

Love’s by Lou Rowan (Oystercatcher Press)

In his 1640 publication of prose, Timber: or, Discoveries, Ben Jonson suggested that ‘Language most shewes a man: speake that I may see thee. It springs out of the most retired, and inmost parts of us, and is the Image of the Parent of it, the mind.’ It brought to the fore a sense that the words we use are an integral aspect of who we are: the language we use gives our audience a picture of what is lying hidden in our minds. I recall telling Year 7 pupils that no one can see inside your mind and that therefore language, moving like a shark’s fin carving its path through the waters, gives an indication to the observer of what lies beneath the surface, hidden. I am also old enough to remember that Penguin Modern Poets 10, The Mersey Scene, which appeared in 1967. It contained glimpses of the world made new by Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Adrian Henri’s accumulation of one-line pictures of the new world of sexuality, nostalgia and urban isolation:

‘Love is feeling cold in the back of vans
Love is a fanclub with only two fans
Love is walking holding paintstained hands
Love is’

Lou Rowan’s merging of memory and desire, which has the effect of stirring dull roots with spring rain, is an altogether more serious affair than Adrian Henri’s and one which must be returned to time and again as the layers of meaning yield themselves to engaged reading. When Toby Olson wrote about Rowan’s Reality Street publication of stories, Alphabet of Love Serial, he referred to the ‘weave’ of stories, the ‘haunting sense of connection between them’ and the way that the ‘imagined emerges into autobiography’ presenting the reader with something ‘brand new, often wonderfully coming forth in their syntax and development…as if…writing in a new language.’ Perhaps those qualities hinted at above can be seen with increasing clarity in ‘Fights’, the opening poem of this new Oystercatcher:

‘won’t dim your eyes harden
your lips flatten my chin
or abort this spring

days will stretch and nights strain
there will be blood and sobs
I doubt we’ll die…

twined kittens,
I’ll lick your whiskers

so close we blur
eyes widen in the dark
tails twitching’

As the negatives of the first stanza, the denials, move towards the embracing gesture of expansiveness in line four there is a sharpening of focus which concludes with a wry smile. The closeness of the relationship in the last two stanzas has required language’s magnifying glass to focus upon a movement of particularities: twining and licking moves to widening and twitching.

The second poem in the collection, ‘Vain Letters’, with its double sense of both vanity and uselessness (these letters are in vain!) weaves the names Jocelyn, Ann and Rowan into a musical jamboree of ‘Jas, roc, an’ simfanny’. A later piece of lyrical effusion concerning the closeness of love offers us something far beyond that world of Adrian Henri’s distant twist of ironic lips. The fourth stanza of Henri’s ‘Love Is…’ dwells upon loss, regret and a sweet sense of nostalgia:

‘Love is white panties lying all forlorn
Love is a pink nightdress still slightly warm
Love is when you have to leave at dawn
Love is’

Lou Rowan’s poem opens with a greater sense of clarity and thought:

‘I can’t want
to know where I begin or
you don’t end

soft and smooth you lie back
flesh rising to me at each breath
hips solid like sea-clams
dream-limits to my desire’ [.]

This is a poetry where the personal and the public entwine as they might have done in late sixteenth-century songs or sonnets and it comes as no surprise to read the metaphysical idea which opens one page

‘a line is formed by two planes or
it’s a set of points connecting two points
the most directly

there have to be laws
so each touch engenders
a sheaf of lines right there
lines joining feeling longing knowing wanting
and each sheaf
set awhirl
bouquets of grasses and stems
at each touch
the atom kernel whole point or crux [.]

These are thoughtful and playful poems: a delight to the mind.

Ian Brinton 13th March 2016

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One response »

  1. A touch of irony in the title too. I imagine you remember the kitschy Love is… cartoons that came out in the newspapers back then, with baby-bodied figures with big eyes, he with a dark mop top, she with a blonde hairdo. Love’s can be something else. Nice post.

    Reply

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