Grovsenor Road Books, 2009 £1.50
Reviewed by Emma Lee, Rob A Mackenzie and Matt Merritt
The poet shows a self-deprecating humour, especially in ‘I was wined and dined by Simon Robson—The Poet’, an event that appears to have taken place in the local Chinese, taking in a fair amount of alcohol and involving the author in downloading all his problems on the unnamed narrator, leaving us to presume the date was not successful. It could have been a lot funnier if a few more telling details—paper tablecloths, worn nylon carpet tiles, prickly velveteen seats—had been used so the reader could feel they were there too.
Simon Robson misses a similar trick in ‘My Dad was Rock and Roll’, a prose piece:
My dad, he was listening to his rock and roll, too mentally incapable to play cribbage, never having the maths to peg his points, hopeless, losing – Elvis Presley, Be Bop A Lula, all that, songs from when he was a teddy boy...
The song titles could have been used to reflect his father’s problems or as a counterpoint to his current life, showing more about the subject. Then the writer wouldn’t have to waste so many words telling us.
There are some interesting images though, in ‘from Aldershot Nights—Sick Kicks’:
cash till assistants from Iceland slowly de-thawing, relaxing,
getting warmed up for action by their boyfriends,
reaching orgasm, sounding like walruses. . .
I like the image of the shop assistants who work in Iceland thawing out and getting warmed up. But why diminish the impact by adding “relaxing”?
The price reflects the minimal production values: photocopied courier typewritten sheets with occasional photographs and handwritten page numbers stapled in a card cover. Eleven poems for £1.50 is a very reasonable price. However, the photocopying cuts off some of the final letters in the prose pieces and the name of the road in the address appears to be (I consulted Google maps) the victim of an incorrect spelling. Or is it a deliberate attempt to reflect the guerrilla-style approach to the presentation of the poems?
The pamphlet is available from the author at:
Grovsenor Road Books, 172 Grovsenor (sic) Road, Aldershot, GU11 3EJ
Rob A Mackenzie
This pamphlet’s scrawled cover and typewritten print give a similar impression to a lo-fi rock album. Budget production values can sometimes result in inspired art. The first lines of the opening prose narrative offer a clear impression of what’s to come:
My dad was rock and roll, he died too soon, God bless him, maybe me
The rush from one phrase to another signals ‘edgy’ writing. Clipped phrases separated by commas represents Simon Robson’s default style. His motto appears to be, ‘if in doubt about what to do next, insert a comma.’
Many poems concern sleazy characters and urban settings and these rarely stretch beyond stock imagery. In ‘Aldershot Nights—Sick Kids’, we find:
Hungry arseholes, cynics, greedy for money,
dental pick nurses with gleaming plastic teeth,
probing molars, sharp incisors,
seedy characters from the sex shop in Gucci loafers,
the takeaway, kebab shop, hairdressers,
communal sauna and showers, massage parlour—
The “dental pick nurses” stand out a mile here, but they are surrounded by images which could depict any dodgy area anywhere. The list (many of the poems use a similar technique) tails out in empty description, without any movement, tension or insight.
The poems are let down firstly by a poor command of grammar and syntax. Images piled on top of one another separated by commas just can’t make a poem or even decent prose. The best writers in all genres know how to vary sentence-length and use punctuation to their advantage. To a poet, every word and punctuation mark is vital. Everything should be fought over until the best words are in the best order. Unintentional humour can result when this doesn’t happen, for example in ‘Farewell Ron Meadow’:
He hopped to the shop on the corner
on a pogo stick
These bouncing cigarettes must have been worth seeing!
Secondly, images need to be deployed in service to a poem’s themes, but none of these poems left me deep in thought or emotionally affected. I never got a sense that Robson knew what he was aiming at.
The best poem is ‘Jim Ginger-Top’, about a rip-off merchant who sells furniture at extortionate prices to widows. The poem starts with Jim’s complaints about a menu and finishes with a description of the women who love him, including the “blonde French waitresses with rotten teeth,/ coating themselves in aspic, willing, waiting”, my favourite lines from the pamphlet. The poem isn’t free of the kind of problems I mention above, but it displays an engaging black humour, which is also present elsewhere.
This pamphlet fails because the writing simply isn’t good enough. That, of course, can be remedied (and badly needs to be), and I’d be interested to see whether Simon Robson produces stronger work in the future.
Whatever else you might say about his poetry, you couldn’t possibly claim that Simon Robson hasn’t got a style all his own.
That extends to the production of the pamphlet, a home-published production that includes typewritten text, photographs and handwritten page numbers. It’s a DIY affair that’s reminiscent of 80s music fanzines, and it’s entirely suited to the content, which itself reminds me of 80s bands like the Television Personalities or one of Billy Childish’s many incarnations.
That’s because the poetry is entirely concerned with people living on the unseen margins of life. Robson evokes sympathy for them using a telling-it-to-you-straight delivery, with deadpan understatement working well, such as in ‘Dead Black Cat’, when he describes his neighbour Lisa as having “delusions of grandeur . . . not wanting to live in a bedsit”.
He uses repetition well, too. At first glance his prose poems can appear—well—more prose than poem, but as you read further you get a real sense of a mind worrying away at an itch that just has to be scratched.
Thing is, though, he’s also very aware of all this, and two of the most entertaining pieces are ‘I Was Wined And Dined By Simon Robson—the Poet’ and ‘I’d Like To Write Poetry Like Chinese Poetry’, in which he wishes he “was more precious than jade”, but ends up claiming that he enjoys “unnecessary repetition” and is “too predictable, sprawling, meandering”.
He’s got the last two right, perhaps, but he’s never predictable, and you can imagine these poems going down very well at an open mic night. The same goes for the pamphlets, too, and for the price of half a pint, why wouldn’t you take a chance on a home-produced publication that doesn’t pretend to be anything it’s not?