Dry Days in Wet Towns, Andrew Button
erbacce-press, 2016 £6.00
What the reader needs to know, and what the reader LIKES to know
I savour poems that draw on references that are as real as rain to me, poems of my era.
So for the poem titled ‘Revolver’, of course I knew Revolver was (is) a Beatles album. I’m a Beatles generation child. 1966. I was thirteen. And of course I remember all too vividly how John Lennon died of gunshot wounds. This double familiarity is assumed in the poem and it’s reassuring, neat and satisfying that I ‘get’ the references.
A number of poems here work this way and I like them for it. ‘A Sixth of the Text Book’ name-checks Liz Lochhead as the visiting poet to a class of sixth formers. I could see her face as the poem unfolded; and the kids’ faces too. I didn’t need to be familiar with Liz Lochhead to ‘get’ the poem but I was, and this made the poem light up.
In ‘Adapted from the film’, there is no open reference to Thelma and Louise (though the name Harvey Keitel is a clue), and the poem is not ‘about’ the film. But it draws on the iconic image of two women driving over a cliff and uses it for another, strongly emotive, reason. And because I loved the film, and that ending, this poem particularly affected me.
So this is a thing Andrew Button is good at – drawing on a shared set of references. Such references, if the poems survive long enough, may need footnoting. But that is true for much poetry. It could be argued that this factor is partially limiting, and many other poems don’t draw on such references. But maybe all poems do it to some extent. We are human. There is a shared experience. And it’s what made me like ‘Woodlice’ so much, with its description of ‘a gang of woodlice / crowding at my back door, / flexing their antennae, / poised as squatters’. I know these woodlice.
But if I didn’t – if I had never befriended even one woodlouse or known that in Scotland they are called ‘slaters’ – I think this would make me curious. I might go and look them up.
Above all, Andrew Button’s poems are rooted and real, and the precise and familiar evocation of the world is – to me – warmly welcoming.