Rialto, Bridge Pamphlet No 2, 2008 £5.50 - http://www.therialto.co.uk
The ‘bridge’ in Rialto’s Bridge Pamphlet series is the metaphorical one “designed to cross the gap between magazine and book collection”, and this is only the second Bridge in the series. The first (Lorraine Mariner’s splendid Bye For Now) certainly accomplished its mission. Her first book-length collection, Furniture, is due out from Picador next Spring.
But it was a hard act to follow, and there’s been a long gap between the two: approximately two and a half years. But enter Richard Lambert and, though not in the least like Mariner in terms of style or content, he is equally ‘different’—in fact, quite often he strikes me as just about as untypical of a contemporary poet as you’re likely to find.
For a start, he likes intricate patterns and they are apparent in many of his intensely lyrical poems. I don’t mean the ubiquitous sestina or villanelle. When Lambert does form, he does something entirely his own. ‘Lullaby’, for example, has a soft, melodic aural charm. When you look at it closely you find that not only does the third line of each quatrain end with the word ‘late’ but that this in turn slant-rhymes with the final word of each stanza (night/light/kite/bright:
Hear the wind go
on tiles and through trees. Do not hear,
it is late,
fear tugs at dreams like a kite.
Neat, no? But then you see that the final word of each quatrain’s first line also rhymes or half-rhymes (now/ low/ go/ how), which leaves only the line-ending of the second line out of the equation. Except it’s not out. Look back to the quotation above and you’ll see that ‘hear’ at the end of line two picks up the first word ‘Hear’ and also the first word of the last line ‘fear’. This pattern, too, repeats in every quatrain.
Complicated trickery, indeed. However, like all the best poetic tricks, you don’t actually notice it as you read. You just pick up the soft aural repetitions and the soothing lullaby feeling. Similar intricacy is apparent in the (at first sight) simple title poem, ‘The Magnolia’, where the poet plays on ‘w’ sounds, not just alliteratively but at the end of the words ‘blow’ and ‘slow’. It is a beautiful and gentle poem, which keeps pushing your mouth, through “branches strained with love” into the shape of a kiss.
Lambert is a poet who both intrigues and puzzles me. There’s often a great deal that I can see and ‘click’ with, but also often aspects that I don’t quite get. I didn’t understand ‘noticings’ at the end of the untitled ‘no-one notices this’, for example (I wanted it to be ‘noticing’); I didn’t quite see why ‘By the Shores of Lake Mackenzie’ preceded the chorus line “for I aint going back soon, my love” with “it isn’t you I’ll miss the most” (italics mine). Perhaps the change of register is the point? But I went back over the poems again and again. What seems slight here is worth far more than passing interest.
I love Lambert’s ear for phrase and form; I love the way he catches tiny moments and aspects of life—“a cat soft as ink in the long grass”; I love the way the poems flicker past you sometimes like little fragments that refuse to add up but still take you with them. No space to do him justice here. Read him for yourself. I’ll end with his words, not mine:
I came to it again after a long time of being out of it.
And I wanted then to know what these shapes were.
Red lobsters, like the kind you get in displays,
a storm off a coast from somewhere,
some pain that won’t go away (doesn’t it ever?).
And who’s this to, anyway?
Who’s this you write to?
You, maybe. Yes, maybe you.