For The Pure Pleasure Of It
"...my hand in my other hand holding
myself, as I hold myself to this, somewhat believing in
its hopelessness, somewhat compelled to have faith in its necessity."
These are the concluding lines of Martin Stannard's 'POEM (I'm at home this evening).' It is a seven page poem published in Poetry Nottingham 58/3, a piece which defies the simple label of “a poem” because it works out of a prose narrative which immediately begins to break up as it unfolds. Then there are poems within “the poem”' which both define and defy “time” which opens the work: I'm at home this evening. It's 23:26 by the clock.
If it were just about time "by the clock" it would be droll, irrelevant, yet here there are three clocks: the computer clock, the 'real life' clock and perhaps a different measure of it out there on the lake, which enters his dreaming, his desire.
“POEM” wraps up, twists and exfoliates in the same breath: work, what could be, memory, observation, banality, autobiography, what is, experience, what could have been, money, the “natural” world, dream, a personification - all running through the clock.
The duck he momentarily becomes turns life's ridiculous proposition into the absurdity of reason: the duck on the lake, which doesn't (and can't) look over its shoulder at others to instruct its behaviour, turns itself into the cartoon Daffy Duck, who is worried by his TV appearance - his ratings, etc. This farce works so well because it runs out of the body of the work like a moment of “alienation”' in a Brecht play.
And this is just one strand within the piece, for the whole poem gathers together self (Ego and Id) with the fragmentation of the world beyond -rents it and then renders new notions of self, empathy and a life-line. Of these, time is the essence above all other. Indeed, I think the cadence and musicality of Stannard's poetry is time, not as a metric, a breath or a beat but as “pauses” and “leaps” of experiential time.
For myself, I don't read poetry for learned qualities, influences or a mastery of language, though they're ever present in Stannard's poetry. My criteria: Does this make me gasp? Who can I share this with? Could this poem be taken into a different art form?
“Coral,” published by Leafe Press in 2004, owes, I think, its title to a Lee Harwood poem. At face value it is a confessional work, addressed to Chloe. Yet this misses the mischief of these letters, for they are possibly to a real person and certainly to Stannard's “other”. Yet, more importantly, perhaps it is a volume addressed to poets? Is a “Letters to Chloe,” a group of twenty poems, addressed to the muse itself? Substitute “Poetry” for “Chloe” and there is another dance going on!
“My Feet. They Deserve Iambic Slippers” begins to touch another surface - humour and outright laughter. This is the one poem not addressed to Chloe because it addresses both the sore feet of prosody and the sore foot of living. “In His Imaginary Imagination” he plays back to Surrealist listings; to a list of hyper-real statements and even demands.
...It's no good
expecting me to edit my life Who can
do that to themselves?
Chloe, I don't want to turn out
to be that sort of bloke who is chuffed when
he uses a word like “kenspeckle” in a poem...
For all Stannard's reading and involvement in poetry “that sort of bloke” would seemingly sit uneasily in the poetic. Yet this repeated phrase rides between the waves of his use of French (as an almost cryptic refrain) and his formality of approach. This isn't just a colloquial nod to the ordinary, non-poetry reading people. Stannard uses “that sort of bloke” as a bitter-sweet paradox: as a poet, you go out to a brilliant musical gig, feel something in the air, in the experience, come home and poetry - that which should be the most wonderful human flux of all - is the same old granite statue (that British unmoving granite).
Times dominate poetry - its longevity and traditions. Increasingly for Stannard, “time” is movement, not merely motion or a score.
No one else in British Poetry, in my view, understands and uses the line-break like Martin Stannard. In his work it is the “twist” between the breath and the European metric form. One could site Koch and Ashbery as influences but that Surrealist “listing” and the best of British cynicism and humour runs throughout his work too.
For this poet, rather than a poetry of a specific tied imagery, hidden messages and historical references, his is a duality of all these and the breathlessness of the day-to-day - which reflects and projects the contradictions of our ordinary/extraordinary lives.
Stannard gathers the extraordinary. Gasp, share, use it!