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Daniel O'Donnell-Smith


Wildlife by Rupert Loydell (Shearsman, 2011).

This latest poetry collection from the prolific Rupert Loydell, is a study of otherness; one man in contrast with everything. Covering a range of subjects from parental loss to leaving one’s shoes behind in a foreign country so that they may enjoy an unending holiday, Loydell’s work presents as a series of micro-essays, a kind of Philosophy-of-Everything, underpinned by bathetic humour and the notion that death, as an absurd adversary to the natural world, is always in view: ‘I am happiest hiding behind curtains or drapes, think I am ready to dig my own grave’.

The work is one of self-reflection and (non-mawkish) nostalgia or, more accurately, the sense of history one feels when one encounters a place. Running throughout the entire book is a sequence of poems entitled Animals Are Not Your Friends – a collection of curios, existential musings and lurking creatures; egrets and spiders hiding in the crease of the page, looking on (just out of sight but ever-present). Loydell constructs a poetics of organisms and organics. ‘Nests’ of letters actively arrange themselves to become the work; a hive mind of poetic thought housing ‘germs of ideas’ that self-organise into a repeating and self-replicating pattern. Each variation of Animals Are Not Your Friends is arranged into sets of four neat, centred stanzas ending with a disembodied quotation. This structure is safe, a rigid form to protect against the ‘dark and wilful energy’ of creatures that bite, howl, kill and are generally naughty (knocking over bins etc.).

I am thinking about what you have made,
those drawings with water, circles of stone,
marks left on the hills or the beach;
about how you then let time and weather
blow them away into memory’s book.

Animals are not your friends. They plunder
for their nest and forage for their food,
they run away and don’t return, fight
other cats at night. It’s no use limping home
to me, you’ll get no sympathy.

I am thinking that it doesn’t really matter
if you made those marks or took these walks,
or if you’re who I think you are. There is
still mud on the wall and your photographs
where text and landscape blur.

Animals are not your friends and art critics
are all snakes. What do they know about life
or being alone for a week? A stone is a stone
is a stone is a stone. Look at where the path
might go, at patterns in the sand.

“I prefer to leave things unsaid.”

At the beginning of Wildlife there is a quote from Anne Michaels’ What the Light Teaches – ‘When there are no places left for us, we’ll still talk in order to make things true’. Snatches of conversation are threaded throughout the book; a collage of vivid thoughts and recollections creating a confessional of sorts though one that is purposefully unreliable. Loydell never fully lets on whether or not he believes in the statements he makes: ‘…this poem is not concerned with truth or experience or even being honest’ (a line which in itself may not be true, taken from Line by Line). Not that one feels emotionally short-changed or intellectually hoodwinked - the victim of some philosophical flim-flam - rather, this approach seems to mimic the untrustworthiness of the natural world and the slippery glissage of thought and observation serves to amuse as a subversive pastiche on the uncertainty of it all.

Sometimes Loydell takes the form of a kindly pater familias, leaning in to impart advice and gently inform on the world, at other times he’s on a step-ladder in Hyde Park berating foxes and geese. Nature, lacking in tenderness, refuses to be tamed as families change; losing and gaining members with each progression: shoes are left on holiday, dead fish stink out their museum and words, not being ‘made to last’, face an uncertain future in what is a careful, humourous, and affecting discourse on the ephemeral nature of life, art and writing.

 

Daniel O’Donnell-Smith, 2012.