Busty London Escort

Three of the quirkiest poems I have read this year appeared in collections by Leontia Flynn, Ocean Vuong and Richard Osmond, all of which were published in 2017.

The Radio is Leontia Flynn’s fourth book. As well as some fine poems about her childhood in Northern Ireland, I particularly liked her versions of Catullus. Others have appeared in The Poetry Review, so with any luck we may eventually have a full set. Many of her poems use rhyme and the book contains some sonnets, a villanelle and a splendidly McGonagallish “Ode to Moy Park”. There are also concrete and prose poems and three verse dialogues. The most eye-catching, however, is “Poem about all the Space I Told My Husband I Needed”, which — apart from the title — is just a blank page. You can “read” it as representing not only the space she demanded, but also her subsequent inability to fill it. There have been many poems about failed inspiration and some very fine ones (Coleridge’s “Dejection: an Ode”, Hopkins’ “Thou art indeed just, Lord, if I contend”, Yeats’s “The Circus Animals’ Desertion”), but what could be more honest than a blank page? It’s a concrete poem, if absence can be concrete.

Ocean Vuong’s Night Sky with Exit Wounds, is the much-lauded debut by a young poet who arrived in the USA at the age of two, as a refugee from Vietnam. Poems in the book, which won the T. S. Eliot Prize and the Forward Prize for Best First Collection, deal with subjects such as war and exile, as well as with the poet’s sexuality. They do so with an extraordinary freshness, which may partly reflect the poet’s struggle with dyslexia. One poem, “The Seventh Circle of Earth”, is nearly as empty as Leontia Flynn’s, but not quite. It has the numbers 1 to 7 scattered over two pages, referencing footnotes to an otherwise blank text, the poem being contained in the footnotes. Dante’s Seventh Circle of Hell was reserved for those who had committed crimes of violence. “The Seventh Circle of Earth” focuses on the location of the crime and its the victims. Below the title is an epigraph from the Dallas Voice about the deaths of a gay couple “murdered by immolation in their home in Dallas, Texas”, immolation here not in its strict sense of sacrifice, but meaning death by fire. The poem is addressed by one of the dead men to the other among the ashes (footnotes) of their razed home. It is a powerful conceit and one that encapsulates both the marginalisation of gay people in some sectors of society and the idea that a homophobic intent to erase them from the face of the earth has been subverted by the poem’s living on among the footnotes. It ends ironically: “6. … Look how happy we are / to be no one / & still // 7. American.”

After that, it is something of a relief to turn to one of the poems in another first collection, Useful Verses by the English poet, Richard Osmond. No, not Richard Osman, the TV presenter — the poet’s bio says he works as a wild-food forager. The book won the Seamus Heaney First Collection Prize and was shortlisted for the Cost Book Award. Anyone expecting a cross between a self-improvement guide and a book of conventional nature poetry will be in for a surprise. These are intelligent and sophisticated poems by a poet who, as Picador’s blurb says, views flora and fauna through a wholly contemporary lens, involving things such as quantum physics, online gambling and social media.

Unlike the poems by Leontia Flynn and Ocean Vuong, which leave text out, Richard Osmond’s “A Game of Golf” adds a subliminal message in. It concerns a pair of marketing-agency types, one of them the speaker in the poem, who play golf with a visiting client, a neurologist from America. Having not only tactlessly won the game, but then found that their car has been clamped, the speaker hopes “to salvage the afternoon with the promise / of erotic massage”, which he proceeds to suggest to the client, using a technique drawn from an earlier project: boosting the online presence of a network of escort services by curating a blog in which the keywords “busty”, “London” and “escort” were used as frequently as possibly both overtly and concealed like “hidden clues” in cryptic crossword puzzles. This happens not only in the words spoken to the client, but throughout the whole poem, as in “robust Yankee”, “WatermelonDonut?”, or “E-series Cortina”. Whether it worked on the client isn’t revealed. What it might do for this blog remains to be seen.

Author: Stephen Claughton

Poems have appeared widely in print (Agenda, The Interpreter’s House, Iota, Magma, Other Poetry, Poetry Salzburg Review and The Warwick Review) and on line (Against the Grain, Agenda Supplement, Atrium, The High Window, Ink Sweat & Tears, London Grip and The Poetry Shed). Twice nominated for the Forward Best Single Poem Prize.

3 thoughts on “Busty London Escort”

  1. I found this a most thought-provoking commentary, Stephen – clearly the product of close reading and much reflection. It reads as though it were a review for publication in a journal. Is that the case?

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s