Monday, November 07, 2005

The Prize, John Siddique

(Rialto, £7.95)

First, the one objection. The print is too small and difficult to read as it's not the clearest print.

Maybe that means he can cram more poems in. Which would be great because on the whole this is a very readable and very thought-provoking collection. There is a quiet force to these poems that is rare to find in much English poetry. "Quiet" is not always a complimentary adjective in the poetry world: there are a lot of poems that are as undemonstrative as a dull day in Blackburn; but these poems are often full of feeling, emotions lying not very far from the surface, as here:

Cherry Tree

We are carving wood together,
I turn the head and Chris shapes with each beat.

The room is filled with cherry scent & schoolboys.
Every moment is its own. There is no talking,
no cause of pain.

I can smell the patcouli oil she wears.
We operate as one. I wonder do the schoolboys
notice our oneness. They are quiet too
shaping the pieces, rasping and smoothing,
carving shape. Constantly running their hands
over the limbs forming from each stroke and beat.

There's a sensuousness, even a gorgeousness about his language that drags you into the poems in this book, and a sense of enquiry that I find compelling. Even in the poems that deal with his own life as an Asian/European man living in England, I never see any striving to "put the message across" in a forced or artificial way. There is anger here; but there is also love.

He is, in fact, a very good love poet. I particularly liked his Ninety Day Theory, which manages to be both erotic and caring, and to reveal a truth about relationships that in the end you know aren't going to go anywhere. His poem about his father's smallpox (Variola) and the three sisters that died again manages to be both revealing and moving. It's a difficult task to be both, I feel; so many poems either pluck at the heartstrings or give us some information or play games with language that may be interesting but ultimately don't move us. There are poems here that are very direct, and others such as Horsebones which are more mysterious, like fragments from stories overheard but not completely; but always, there's an emotional charge, and an exploration of feelings that is very rare in a male poet.

John Siddique is published by a small but enterprising press from Norwich. All power to their arm if they continue to produce work like this.

1 comment:

John said...

Hi Steve.

thanks for your very kind review, Yes i agree about the type, i had issues with it as well, but the publishers would not listen about this at all. Somethings you can't do anything about and this is their house style. I am so pleased you see what I'm trying to do with this book. It is such a worry when you write something that one is being indulgent, especially if you have it in your head that there should be layers of meaning. I always try never to preach, but to say something that I hope is worth saying.

thanks you again, you are a star