erbacce press, 2008 £3.99 - www.erbacce-press.com
Ben Barton’s drop, anchor presents itself as a collection of confessional poems— according to his website (www.benbarton.co.uk ). I say this as it pinpoints one of the primary stumbling blocks I encountered when reading this chapbook.
The usual confessional material looms large throughout the twenty-one poems here: the poet’s father, his grandfather, his sexuality. In fact these three items are the underpinning of Barton’s poems in themselves—a struggle to come to terms with differing views of masculinity, the consequences of masculinity. It is difficult for me to avoid mentioning at this point that these views of masculinity are frequently to do with homosexuality—difficult mainly because the poet seems to market himself specifically in that vein. As the blurb indicates on the back of the pamphlet, “Ben Barton is a queer poet”—which is on the very first line. Despite that, it must be said that there is not a great deal in the way of gratuity, and that the poet perhaps does himself a disservice by such straightforward branding.
To go back to that stumbling block I mentioned in the introduction—Barton is at his best when he presents an identifiable scene with which the reader can collaborate. The danger of confessional writing is how easy it can be to craft something meaningful on a personal level but baffling when it comes to engaging the reader. Barton’s poems waver between these two poles and, perhaps predictably, I found myself enjoying the poetry much more when it was tailored towards outside interest. ‘Neon’, for instance, is largely made up of reported feeling and abstraction: “Yesterday I felt alive”, “I love you for that, / making me feel / Fantastic to be beautiful again” and ends with “Yes, I was alive, / I was neon”. Contrast this with the poem I enjoyed most, ‘The Landlords’:
think they have power over me
waving the rentbook like it’s the oracle
ringed with red marker
Five Fridays in a row
they have knocked and knocked
splintering the door frame
shouting through the letterbox
each occasion a different time
their attempt, I guess
to catch me unawares.
we sit in silence, smoking
pacing through the halls
too scared, even
in the centre
of the bowl.
The poem is notably focused outward at the effectors, rather than the self, the affected. The end for me marks a humorous and successful correlative for that sense of being constantly on guard.
What the Common Reader says about Ben Barton’s drop, anchor:
The front cover of this pamphlet has an air of bleak despair: it shows a man weighed down by an anchor—or perhaps it’s someone waiting to be rescued. On the back cover, there’s an altogether different image with a photo of a very pleasant-looking young chap with an emblem of a flower.
The first poem, ‘The Rebirth Remembered’, is a moving account of a surviving twin whose brother died at birth:
I was wrapped in the
He was wrapped in the
white coffin and sunk
while I rose.
This poem moved me so much I had to put the pamphlet down for a while before I could read further.
After reading ‘On the Morning Bus’, I had to put the pamphlet down again because I found myself naughtily, deliciously, aroused:
I like to watch the men’s crotches
bobbing with the tarmac bumps…
I must use public transport more often.
Barton can do heart-felt (‘Six months After I Left the Hospital’). He can also do harsh (‘Dress you up Bitch’) and amusing (‘About Poetry Reading’). It’s an impressive range.