Judder Men, Ben Bransfield
Smith/Doorstop, 2021 £6.50
Poetry of place
Judder Men is exceptionally varied in its subject matter and style. From a poem about the historical theft of a shirt to a poem composed entirely of wordplay (‘Rag Man’), it might be hard to find a unifying thread. However, one thing which many of these poems do have in common is a powerful sense of place. Bransfield uses setting to evoke both emotions and states of mind, from quiet reflection to defiance and loss.
In the poem ‘Nan and Granddad’s’ for example, a house is depicted in full sensory detail:
Corned beef. Silverskin onion juice
Sluiced from the jar onto mash.
The house and garden take on an almost magical quality, becoming characters with agency in their own right:
And the black pond never let on
it had taken the goldfishes’ tongues.
By paying such attention to setting, the poem looks sideways at the relationship between the speaker and his grandparents. Vivid descriptions of place bring memories to life and hint at the importance of this connection.
Elsewhere, setting itself becomes the narrator. In ‘To King Ferdinand III of Castile, upon entering the Mezquita of Córdoba, 1236’, the temple — once a mosque, converted to a cathedral by the conquistadors — insists on its unchanged state. ‘I am no different to before,’ says the Mezquita —
[...] I will be jasper
brick and stone, whatever you let them do to me,
whichever way you face to pray.
As well as survival and defiance, setting can powerfully suggest loss. In ‘Blundellsands’, Anthony Gormley’s Another Place sculpture of figures ‘star[ing] out to sea’ forms a stark backdrop to images of abandonment and decay. The poet describes how ‘Christmas trees’ are left to rot on the beach, ‘dry branches docked / by bauble thread, stray tinsel strand.’
In Judder Men, place is a vehicle for exploring human emotion and memory. Often setting is a character just as much as it is scenery.