not to take all this at face value, to examine it from all sides
like the inquisitor you have it in you to be.
We need to bear this caveat in mind when reading Coral because at first sight it appears to be issuing exactly the same challenge. The title itself seems to be a deliberate misnomer, implying slow, painstaking accretion, when all the poems in the sequence have an improvised, spontaneous quality. There are eighteen poems listed in the contents though the final, and best one, Curriculum Vitae really does not belong. This is a Stannard classic, listing over thirty job titles of varying degrees of craziness. Of course he knows it doesn’t really fit and the cheeky inclusion of “Ornamenter de Chloe” in the list as a deliberately contrived link admits as much.
To explain the link, all but one of the remaining poems are addressed in an absurdly melodramatic, almost burlesque style to the mysterious ‘Chloe’. Add to this a plethora of parentheses, quotation marks, italics and an abuse of French that would embarrass Derek Trotter and you begin to get an idea of what he is up to:
Chloe, I couldn’t make this evening
I had to work late (J’ai du travailler tard)
& when separate things
keep saying they’re determined to remain
separate perhaps Chloe
you simply ought to accept it
The intriguing thing about this collection is that we get a rare glimpse of Stannard dipping a toe into in fiction. The scenes and characters, including the protagonist, are all inventions. There are two additional female characters, Daphne and Diana, who both appear to be regarded by Chloe as rivals for the narrator’s affections. These little dramas are mostly enacted on a set with a botched fantasy aristocratic backdrop. He talks of bedchambers, antechambers, stables, rolling grasslands and most poems seem to mention horses. It’s definitely green wellie territory. You get hooked. You begin to take a compulsive interest in these eccentric lives as each episode unravels. That’s right, Martin Stannard has invented a whole new genre, the Poetry Soap, unreality T.V. “Pride and Prejudice” collides with “Emmerdale” and shoots right off the literary Richter scale!
Of course, if this collection is about anything, it is about poetry itself. Its mission is to remind poets to always read the label and check their ingredients for artificial colours and flavouring. Entertaining and elegant, it is Martin Stannard is at his satirical best, warning us to keep at least one foot on the ground at least some of the time, emphasising the importance of not being earnest.