Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

Run by HappenStance Press

Nasty Little Press, 2011 £5.00

Sphinx seven and a half striperReviewed by Maria Taylor, Helen Addy and Nick Asbury

Maria Taylor:
Nic Aubury must be a brave poet in daring to bring light verse, with its ticktock metres and nifty rhyme schemes, into the twenty-first century. The overall feel of the pamphlet, published by the Nasty Little Press, is one very much of neatness: a creamy cover presented with lovely, albeit cheeky, illustrations. It would be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that Aubury is writing for nice people in the Home Counties, but the poems often have a verve of their own, as here in ‘Emoticon’:

Semi-colon, right-hand bracket.
Smiley face? I’d like to smack it. ;)

This is poetry that hits home at first reading. It isn’t challenging or filled with ambiguity; it simply entertains. Aubury is concerned with the mechanics of verse in terms of rhyme and scansion, as the couplet above demonstrates. There’s the feeling that this mechanistic approach carries meaning as the reader is tum-ti-tummed through the poems. In fairness he does this well: the lines are sharp and witty. There are also no surprises; you are aware the poem, no matter how short—and indeed some of them are only couplets—is headed for a punch line at the end.

Aubury’s outlook is domestic and quotidian: parents, children, weddings and coping with the agonies of predictive text. The poem ‘Ambition / Ambitioff’ is a celebration of life’s limitations, defending people who choose not to over-exert themselves and are content in mediocrity. Perhaps poets who sweat over every word and punctuation mark may find this a nightmare, but for some readers there may be ‘me too’ appeal:

Here’s to mediocrity,
To pottering and making tea,
To comfortable and muddling through,
To ‘not too bad’ and ‘that’ll do.’

Overall I enjoyed reading the pamphlet, although there were some pieces that were perhaps a little too light. I’m not sure this is a publication that will bear revisits, but what I did find myself surprised with was the poet’s ability to engage readers, to make them relate to experiences of the everyday with humour and bite.

 


Helen Addy:
This tiny, weighty pamphlet has a striking cover of a smudged dark bird, focusing its red eyes on a nude in a newspaper. It has a gothic and lascivious feel to it, which I found immediately intriguing. The poems themselves are tiny, and they lightly explore social and emotional quirks and truths.

Aubury uses rhyme effortlessly and with great humour. I was struck by the confidence in his poems. His end-rhymes felt like arrows heading for a well-deserved target and his titles added an extra, witty dimension to these slight poems.

‘Let’s Call the Whole Thing Odd’ playfully explores the amusing and exasperating nature of predictive text. The poem is funny and clever without any froth. Aubury clearly loves words and how they interact with each other.

I found myself drawn to two poems in particular, ‘Growing Pains’ and ‘Ever After’. Both seemed to carry more emotional weight than the others. ‘Growing Pains’ is written for a five year old, and I think the last two lines show Aubury’s truth-laden rhymes at their best:

what’s important stays unspoken
and, what’s more, cannot be broken.

‘Ever After’, in just four lines, explores the loss we find in all relationships. I find the first two lines quietly devastating:

A happy ending isn’t an ending—
it’s stopping the story half-way through.
An ending is moving away, or divorce,
or you mourning her, or her mourning you.

The word choices and rhymes are pithy and wise, but also pack a considerable emotional punch. I found myself recalling rhyming couplets with a smile. Aubury pinpoints the humour and pathos in everyday life with precise rhyme, and can also offer images that resonate with the reader. In ‘The New Year’, the upcoming year is personified into a female guest at a party. The other guests are strikingly described:

Stilettoed girls—mascara-streaked
and wearing borrowed coats

Whether Aubury is setting his sights on relationships, technology, or the experience of being a poet, his spirited use of rhyme lights up the page. I found his images, coupled with simple lines made weighty with emotional intelligence, very moving. Read aloud, his poems contain a kind of devil-may-care joy. It is infectious.

 

Nick Asbury:
I should start by saying that I feel personally threatened by Nic Aubury. His name looks uncannily similar to mine on the page. He’s of a similar age—although, annoyingly, slightly younger. We appear to have attended the same university. And we share a background in advertising copywriting. I’ve never been sure the world needs one of me, but it certainly doesn’t need two. So I approached this collection determined to pick fault.

Infuriatingly, it’s very good. The background in advertising shines through—there’s a witty idea at the heart of each poem, often with a clever title as the hook. One of my favourites is ‘Magpie Smallprint’, which begins with the entirety of the proverbial magpie rhyme (“One for sorrow . . .”) but then adds an asterisked footnote, raising the fair question of how far apart these sightings are allowed to be. If you see six and then another half an hour later, is that seven, or six and one? As the poet points out, much rides on the outcome:

With stuff like joy or sorrow the distinction is important,
and as things stand we might expect an outcome which we oughtn’t.
For matters of such magnitude (or magpitude?) it’s right
that there shouldn’t be grey areas: it should be black and white.

Is “magpitude” a bit much there? Probably. This guy is rubbish after all. But then he goes and wins you over with that clever ‘black and white’ ending, which you should have seen coming, but didn’t.

Many of the poems take their cue from recognisable everyday situations: the awkward pretension of tasting wine in a restaurant (‘The Sommelier and Some Liar’); the presumption of wedding lists when you’re only invited to the evening do (‘RSVP’); the oddities of predictive text (‘Let’s Call The Whole Thing Odd’); the silliness of emoticons (‘Emoticon’). Occasionally, these have the sense of being overly familiar targets—like those hordes of ‘have you ever noticed how x is really weird’-style stand-up comedians.

But again, it’s the wit and skill of the delivery that wins you over. For example, take the wine-tasting one:

Knowledgeable-nonchalant
I tell the waiter ‘Fine’
when really what I’m thinking is
‘I’m fairly sure it’s wine.’

It’s the kind of perfectly constructed observation you’ll want to be able to remember and breezily quote next time you’re in that situation. And this pamphlet is full of them. This is Nic Aubury’s first collection and you can tell each poem has been finely honed over a number of years—I suspect he could stand up and recite each one of them by heart.

It goes without saying that, as with all good light verse, there are moments of deceptive depth and feeling—including a lovely poem to the poet’s five-year-old son and a melancholy reflection on where Peter and Jane might be now. (“Look—can you see Peter’s pill?/ He worked too hard, and then got ill./ And can you see Jane’s Chardonnay?/ She drinks a bottle every day!”)

But there’s no need to make great claims for hidden depths here in order to justify the poems. They are essentially conventional pieces of light, observational verse of the type that has been written before and will be written again. But they happen to be extremely well done. He’s definitely a name to watch, or certainly very close to it.