Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

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Riding the muse

The muse comes in all shapes and forms, but she’s usually a ‘she’ and she’s not usually amusing.

Unlike James Roome’s ‘Bull’, a muse of memorable character, and an inspiration in more than one sense. Here’s how he’s introduced, in the little prose piece that opens this pocket-sized pamphlet:

[ ... ] I remember him placing his hoof to the side of his huge head in a gesture intended to mimic deep thought And I thought Now here’s an animal I can get behind Here’s something I can ride

That extract also serves to illustrate the style: these are fragments of poetry and prose with no punctuation. The start of a new statement is indicated with a capital letter, and this has a kind of tumbling effect. One sentence tipple-topples joyously into the next, and the reader has to recover herself periodically when directions switch.

‘Bull’ mocks his creator mercilessly. That’s only one of the features that makes him appealing. He is also a great painter (the alternative description of the sequence on the title page is ‘Conversations with The Great Painter’).

‘Lord loves a tryer’ — that’s what he says to our narrator, who is also an aspiring creative, though in fact Bull doesn’t say these words, he ‘guffawed’ them. That laughing, mocking verb conveys the exuberance that characterises these pages.

‘If you only draw one thing / make it birds’, says Bull. I like that, and also the way ‘light [falls] off his teeth like an avalanche’. He’s a cartoon character, larger than life, but utterly alive — and vulnerable.  

‘When was the last time you went outside’ our narrator asks Bull. ‘It’s too complicated to go outside / these days’ comes the reply from this combination of Frankie Howerd and Pablo Picasso.

So yes, it’s a relationship sequence, amusing but not trivial: an awkward, elaborate relationship between an aspiring painter-writer and the hard-drinking, reclusive Bull who is ‘not a bull in the traditional sense’ (he says so in an interview) but is a ‘powerful beast’, possibly.

‘You know / you’d do better / if you weren’t so nervous’ he tells the narrator. This unconventional muse is also the poet’s trainer.

And where does that lead? No spoilers here. But I think the outcome for this muse (for any muse, in fact) is precisely right.

Helena Nelson