Shill, Richard Osmond
HappenStance Press, 2014 £4.00
Hiding behind humour
Richard Osmond’s pamphlet reveals each persona obliquely, through wry, deflecting humour. Osmond gets the reader laughing along with him, and it’s sometimes only by the end one might start to wonder at the quiet mortification that’s hidden behind these jokes. This shielding technique is shown in ‘Hobby’:
Taking a dull pastime
to its logical conclusion,
my uncle stumped off to the potting shed
and killed himself.
The poet goes on in this poem to describe himself ‘poring over an acutely toxic False Morel’ in a book about mushrooms while his father polishes his gun readying for the shooting season.
My favourite short humorous poem was ‘If My Instructions Have Been Carried Out’, a first-line title which continues:
the King of Norway
will be pictured on horseback,
hunting wild boar
in the margins of this page.
Of course, there is no illustration. The poet seems at pains to point out his impotence, his imperial nakedness. In a series of ‘Self-portraits’ he writes more directly: ‘What a coward I was, to hunt / chanterelles in the forest / and never the stag.’ One cannot imagine him ever writing a poem admitting to any admirable personal qualities!
I came away from this collection intrigued. Was my puzzlement down to my ignorance, or purely a wilful concealing on the part of the poet? But in this veiling there is a poignant sensitivity, especially those poems which describe adolescence, and fumbling encounters with girls.
Poetry that talks about writing poetry
Richard Osmond lets us know with his title that he is intrigued by riddles and games. He uses historical references and uncommon vocabulary to push the metaphors. I admire all of this, but am especially intrigued when he adds another layer by commenting on the process of writing poetry.
In ‘Aesthetics’ he presents this short poem as a formula:
A poem should be both
the can of Monster Energy
and the dead mouse,
half-dissolved inside it.
How interesting to use the word ‘should’, as if there are rules. What’s he teaching us? The ingredients might include the upper, the downer; the yin and the yang; the broad landscape as well as tiny detail. Surprise is good and so is contrast. It makes you think.
‘Roadkill’ is an on-the-road poem with a big vista. He sets the scene:
on the Sea-to-Sky Highway,
mosquitos are dying against the screen
as countlessly as deer in poems.
Then he adds: ‘If this were a poem, / we’d hit the biggest stag tonight’, and immediately afterwards turns it on its head: ‘but we don’t.’ The poem forsakes the noise and drama of the death of a stag for the quiet rhythm of wind shield wipers and ‘small epiphanies’. It left me considering the integral truth of any worthwhile poem.
I had to read these poems over and over, and look up unfamiliar references. Richard Osmond is the enigmatic guy at the party, talking in the corner, and I eavesdropped shamelessly as he drew me in and challenged me.