Judder Men, Ben Bransfield
Smith/Doorstop, 2021 £6.50
Where it all starts
Many of these poems are about childhood. Even the ones that aren’t share the sense of an unfettered imagination at work on the mysteries of the world. Ben Bransfield takes the mythic concerns of childhood into adult life, but it all starts with the stories we absorb as children.
In ‘The Twangers’, the poet’s father summons the ‘sidewise judder men’ by twanging the old coiled spring door-stops. It’s a real Dad thing — part joke, part wind-up — but possibly something more. In this case, ‘they’ are
already there in brain or inner ear
at higher pitch that only I could hear
The first poem, ‘Go-Kart’, feels like an extended metaphor of growing up. Built by their grandfather, the go-kart is dragged by the kids to the park
to test what had been built, unable to think beyond
the setting off. To go faster we had to share, to bolt together
This is mirrored in the poem, ‘Tomatoes’, where the poet has swapped go-kart for lawnmower and exchanged the thrill of speed for the concerns of an adult gardener. But the outcome is rooted in childhood and each fruit is ‘a gift of life from my grandfather’s second body’.
There is a terrific imaginative force at work here. In ‘Nan and Grandad’s’, there are goldfish whose tongues have been taken by the black pond, who ‘rose to tell / but took down their pills and forgot again.’ In ‘Joe’, the poet’s brother is remembered tenderly as the budding artist who ‘built a cafe on a hat and wore it all the way to school’. ‘Lamprey’ has an unforgettable double simile (‘like a severed penis or an unfried length of black pudding’) as well as an eye-watering image of a blood-sucking fish:
upstream for the moonlit skinny dippers.
In the final poem, 'Paros', we are left with the image of a family meal in Greece where the poet’s mother ‘will look out towards the sea.’ Earlier, in ‘Joe’, she is the enabler of creativity, a mother who let her children ‘paint / a tree of hands up the kitchen wall ’. Appropriate, then, that she should feature at the close of this wonderful collection.