Well, Graham Clifford
Against the Grain Poetry Press, 2019 £6.00
In the poem ‘Turkeys’, Graham Clifford presents a situation in which an unidentified ‘he’
[ … ] said we’re like turkeys.
If you herd them into a shed,
leave them to gabble in the dark
then return, let the door swing wide
they will not leave
but blink and shuffle further in.
The speaker claims, though, ‘I’m not like the others: / I want to have read the research.’ He wants to know that he’s just a turkey; this will mark him out from ‘the others’.
Most of the other poems reinforce the message that we’re all turkeys, and many juxtapose the abstract language of research against the physical vocabulary of everyday life. For Clifford, it’s not a bowl of cherries. To illustrate that, here are a few of the last lines:
the gristle fist of fact / that will come to no good.
[‘There Should Be a Machine’]
from underneath what we took to be kindness
a steely reluctance has begun to glint.
[‘Getting to the Bottom of Her’]
[ … ]This is evidence of my failure. Yours too.
Ribbed, jabbed, gutted, it will be noisily dispatched.
The ‘well’ of the title is not adjective but noun: an image of the internet, into which the writer dips his name, only to find ‘that it’s as empty of nutrients as a soapy root vegetable / pummelled then sucked / by a hopeless and malnourished tribe.’
However, in ‘Elusion’ we read:
This morning I taught my daughter
how you can rip the stickiest tape
from the thinnest wrapping paper
if you’re quick,
that there is time to take advantage
if you change your mind,
that permanence can be sluggish to inculcate itself —
you can capitalise on that
So there is some optimism. And there are glimpses of dark humour in the opening and closing poems — even an acknowledgement that love is just possible, in the self-mocking ‘An Anxiety-Of-Acknowledged-Love Poem’. This needs to be read in its entirety, but ends amusingly with ‘I dare not / put it any less ambiguously’.