Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Martin Stannard "Faith"

(Shadowtrain Books £8.95,

A new book from Martin Stannard is always an event for me. He's one of those poets whose voice - as cynical and world-weary as it often is - always seems fresh and open. He's probably one of the few poets in England who has genuinely brought that New York insouicient air of Romantic avant gardism successfully into English.

His poems are not difficult, but they do sometimes contain words like "happenstance" and "plangent". He's often funny, but he's ultimately serious about putting life's events into poetry in a way that takes them seriously, but doesn't over-inflate their important. He is, as the blurb on the back says, "keeping it real" but not in the usual way. There's none of the "look at me I'm working class" posturing you sometimes find in poets who want to tell you how they've suffered.

Well, Martin Stannard has suffered. So have I. So have we all. So get over yourself. His poetry about relationships reminds me at times of Jimmy Schuyler's approach to his madness, where, instead of Lowell's "I have suffered for my art, now it's your turn" schtick, we have "Jim the Jerk", going loopy but still able to laugh at himself. So the poems in the "Coral" section (previously published as a Leafe pamphlet) mock his own attempts to impress a girl with little bits of casually thrown in French words. It's easy French, and translated in the poem anyway, but does highlight the absurdity of the situation. He's serious about not being over-serious.

I've been a reader of Stannard's poetry since his pamphlet, The Flat of the Land, and he's published a lot since then. But there's also a lot still out there: some of it on the internet, some of it in obscure magazines all over the place. One day, his Ouervres Completes (Complete Works)will be so enormous that it will fill several shelves of volumes. And all of it will be full of an energy, a drive, charm and lyrical verve that very few poets in England have managed.

I can't tell whether this is as good as his last book, and I'm not sure I care. This is Martin Stannard, and he's better than most and a lot better than many. This book lives up to its title poem: it shows a profound "faith in poetry"; a belief that "The best poetry is of its time/ Or marginally ahead of it."

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