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Steve Spence

"Jargon Busters" by Clive Gresswell, pub. Knives, Forks & Spoons, 83pp. £8.00

Clive Gresswell is another poet whose work I’ve only just stumbled across, mainly as he featured as a reader at the recent Tears in the Fence festival at Stourpaine in Dorset and I’m pleased to say that I’m very glad to have done so. This is terrific poetry. Clearly his long career in journalism has given him a great facility with language and this, combined with an obvious interest in the work of poets such as Tom Raworth, Barry MacSweeney and Sean Bonney, has created the potential for a relationship between the avant-garde (for want of a better term) and a more popular mode of presentation. MacSweeney, of course, had this quality in spades but Gresswell’s writing is as much influenced by Raworth, I’d say, with the added feature of a humour which bubbles over into something like euphoria even where there is a clear political anger raging beneath the surface. Gresswell’s exploration of language, of its fracturing, estranging qualities is never ‘hard work’ as there is a clear sense of delight in this writing which permeates the entire book and makes it ‘a great read’ despite the fact that in terms of ‘subject matter’ he’s constantly dancing at the edge of despair. There are 65 numbered poems in the collection and only two have additional titles, one ‘addressed’ to Sean Bonney and the other to Keith Jebb, his former lecturer at the University of Bedford, I believe. The cover art, Cruel Britannia, by Sophie Gresswell, has a wonderful ‘throwaway’ quality which feels appropriate to the writing. This may well be great poetry but there is no sense of it being ‘up itself’ with visions of grandiosity. It’s sharp, distinct writing which is exploratory and provocative and combines the pleasures of ‘the classroom’ with those of ‘the street’.


            lithe in twilit scabbard

          dark rose scent

          we traverse trapeze

          footprints meshed

          in circular

          nazi regalia

          faces implode

          meld into re-workings

          tears of silent mothers

          draw flesh/flattering thorn

          life the only question

          death the apposite

          walk into my path

          turn away

          i mark your back

          a huge red cross in lipstick


There’s quite a wide range of formal structuring in these pieces, from blocks of writing, with individual words usually separated by commas, to short line ‘sentences’(like the above) having a concern with ‘the individual line’ as the unit of discourse requiring an uneasy relationship with the lines above and below. At the same time, with these poems, my usual tactic of a fast ‘read-through’ proves effective in gisting the ‘sense’ (the full effect of the poems, in terms of ‘meaning’, ‘sound’, relation with the surrounding words etc) before going back to savour the delights of re-reading. One or two of the poems are simply lists with one word per line and some are long-line sentences. Everything is double-spaced and the reader (this reader at least) feels encouraged to feel for the sound values of the combinations (explosive and soft) as well as delighting in such charming observations as – ‘…oxbow lakes flush out / geography teachers…’ . This is political poetry of the first order, filled with the clash of popular culture and ‘high art’, exploring the tensions therein with panache and verve and experimental brio. This is a cracking first collection which often works with ‘found language’ and bristles with intelligence, scorn and embattled desperation. Here we have the final lines from poem 66, the last in the book:

          horse riding is a skill in particular

          & courtly bearing

          women throw themselves at the feet

          of the british royal family

          who learn all these things from the wise french king

          offshore companies/distinguished crowns


          a jester turns his back on the world


Subversive punning at its very best. I think we’re going to hear more from Mr Gresswell and the sooner the better as far as I’m concerned.



Copyright © Steve Spence, 2017