The Review, Martin StannardThe main jacket features a full jacket design in orange, red, grey, lemon yellow and black of a man reaching into a network of threads and cross-threads. The right hand side of the jacket is a solid orange vertical band. On this the title and the author's name appear running vertically, from left to right. First the title, large dark red caps, then the author's name, much small and one word above the other in a faded version of the same colour.

Knives Forks And Spoons Press, 2020      £8.00

On conviction and self-doubt

The Mars Rover was dropped onto a planet of almost unimaginable magnitude, with a job of epic proportions. The intrepid little Rover worked on analysing a cross-section of Mars before its battery ran out. I’m going to do the same, and look at a sample of this lengthy single-poem pamphlet before my ‘battery’ (i.e. word count) expires.

The apparently autobiographical tour de force opens with a declaration:

I’ve been a bit wrapped up in myself lately
and some people say that’s not a good thing
but I don’t give a fuck.

What follows is, to my mind, about thirty-seven pages of someone trying to convince us just how many fucks they don’t give. Which is all fine and dandy, but it occurs to me that the main person needing to be convinced is the poet or protagonist himself.

Because there’s undoubted bravado (and fun) in lines like

Most of the time, minding what might be
not my business, I am inches away from
becoming an almost unbelievable

But there are also hints of self-doubt (presented as self-mockery) elsewhere:

                    And if I leave will be back.
This is not merely because I have nowhere
else to go. I possess a resolve and self-control
that disguises what is probably best-described
as an ordinary and vulnerable humanity.

The focus of the monologue swings casually between the ‘unbelievable hero’ and the ‘vulnerable humanity’, often in the same section. Sometimes even in the same lines:

                                       […] I’ve been 
asleep at the wheel a bit too long but who
hasn’t? I quite enjoy confused chaos

Nonetheless, Martin Stannard has thoroughly reviewed his (or at least a life for us) and along the journey — like that plucky Rover in 2018 — we’re never sure where things might go: triumph or disaster.

It’s almost a relief to be reassured by the closing three lines:

it’s comforting to know that at the final breath,
when one has at last run out of steam,
on the final mattress it all makes sense.

But are we really convinced? More importantly, is Martin Stannard convinced? Or is his tongue firmly in his cheek? After all, ‘A PhD in Poetry Writing’ still beckons.

Or ‘if that doesn’t work out / a job in a garden centre.’

Mat Riches