1599 He Looketh Happily Across the Thames by Bankside, 2011, After the Gasometers, dear m magritte, Egg Printing Explained, Intelligent Album Rock, Katy Evans-Bush, poem, poems, Poetry, review, Richard Price, Salt, Salt Publishing, The Love Ditty of an 'eartsick Pirate, verse
With a jolt I realised that I was standing at the foot of my own grave. Sergeant John Field, 1803339, of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserves died at 22 on the 5th February, 1945. He’s buried in Botley Cemetery, Oxford. My name became a last word when read in the finality of Portland stone and I glimpsed my own internment through an impossible eye. A love of graveyards has diluted death, reduced it to a place of architectural and historical interest but, at that moment, its snarl had me quaking in my size eights.
In Richard Price, Katy Evans-Bush presents this uncanny moment: ‘Richard Price was born in 1723. / Richard Price is an American crime novelist. / Richard Price is a screenwriter. / He was the son of a dissenting minister. / He is the youngest Informationalist’. The poem works with found objects and the authority of the encyclopaedia seduces us with a misplaced sense of security before Evans-Bush’s sleight of hand leaves us disorientated in the company of a 63 year old American novelist and screenwriter. In the next line, her God hand resurrects the mouldering Price for a second time. Every line opens with Price’s name, asserting the stability and power of names while, at the same time, the name’s power to encapsulate us adequately is undermined. In this internet age, I’m all too aware of my national and international namesakes: John Field‘s a magician, a mind reader and an after dinner speaker. He’s the composer who invented the nocturne and a university lecturer. Yet, through the splicing of Richard Price’s various identities, we see their common ground and gradually become unsure which is which, like trying to follow the cups and balls magic trick. The void of space and time feels a little bit smaller and a little bit warmer.
In 1599: He Looketh Happily Across the Thames by Bankside, the archaic Elizabethan language in the second and final poem in the sequence creates a convergence of history. There’s another doubling as the Globe, nestled amongst the bear-gardens and stews of Bankside’s lawless liberties, faced down the Puritan city and St Paul’s. The cathedral was short on luck as in ‘AD 980, consumed by fire / (the records are unclear wherefore): / the Saxon church’s funeral pyre. // 1138, the same, / a new-built roof destroyed by flame: a century’s work, God’s little game’. The rhyming tercets keep the tone light and the caesura in a line like ‘a century’s work, God’s little game’ takes a gentle pop at humanity’s more grandiose moments but, over the water on Bankside, Shakespeare’s just as bad. ‘Come, shield your eyes and look across the tide, / God’s water dappled by agnostic air, / and see God’s cavity on t’other side! / Our merchant highway holds the ghosts aside. / My Faith! I think we be the winners here’. Well, winners until the thatch caught alight during a production of Henry VIII in 1613, anyway.
The collection is shot through with a mischievous iconoclasm, as Evans-Bush creates mashups of Captain Jack Sparrow and TS Eliot in the once read, never forgotten, The Love Ditty of an ‘eartsick Pirate: ‘It’s time we be goin’, me hearty, avast! / When the night’s nailed up its colours to its mast / Like some swab loaded to the gun’les’ and, in Intelligent Album Rock, we’re offered a concept sonnet. The final word in every line’s the same as the final word in the corresponding line of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here. Bob Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues receives similar treatment. This stuff’s a joy to read (and especially aloud) and puts a flippant Byronic swagger back into the serious business of poesy.
As well as playfulness, Egg Printing Explained delivers moments of arresting beauty. In After the Gasometers, Evans-Bush imagines that, ‘If those were crowns, the kings / must have been stretched out underground / from Regent’s Canal to Stepney Green’ and suddenly the London landscape is transformed into something akin to The Valley of the Kings and even the pollutants of the industrial age are rendered beautiful as ‘a thick eiderdown of chemicals and dirt’.
Egg Printing Explained is a monster collection with a diversity of tone and subject matter. However, at its heart, shared experiences link humanity and its high and low culture. The sacred and the profane are shackled together, whether they will or not. This no nonsense honesty is refreshing to encounter and, when faced with Magritte’s The Treachery of Images, the three blunt lines of dear m magritte are easy to applaud: ‘it says it isn’t / a pipe / but it is’.