[18.3.06] [Andrew Gallix]
3:AM REVIEW: ALL KINDS OF DISORDER
3:AM's Randolph Carter reviews Nick Burbridge's All Kinds of Disorder (Waterloo Press):
All Kinds of Disorder (Waterloo Press) is Nick Burbridge's second collection of poetry complete with a 5 track sampler CD of readings arranged with music and effects by The Levellers' Jon Sevink for a commercial recording to be released in spring 2006.
These are secretly angry pieces, depressing and depressive: the energies they hide within are what on the surface might be taken for lyricism and acceptance. But there's a hatred of dying and death here, a vital awareness of the sheer nastiness of time, and any attempt to be funny, to find humour or anything humanly uplifting seems curdled in the bitterness of its underlying, controlling mood. Something is wrong here, and Burbridge has the courage to write out the wrongness like a madman exposing the moral vacuity of bluebottles. It is all just weird. Lyrical and romantic though they are, there is nothing necessarily "confessional" in these voices though inevitably that is how such poetry contrives to impress.
Women seem to be a problem throughout for the men in this collection. Again, like the general bitterness and the hatred, this is often subterranean and often couched in terms that almost suggest the opposite. But there are moments when this bleak attitude bubbles to the surface, as in "The man Next Door" where suddenly the lines "Woman, you have / single-handedly caused me / more damage than / all my enemies together" rise up. To hear such a line is brilliantly glossed by the poet himself as like hearing "W.C Fields without / the comfort of th camera." Here is the secret of the success of this collection. Without the warm avuncular presence of the physicality of the man, words are harsh and destructive, both to the self and others. Throughout, the poet is conscious of what is lost when in the presence of just the voice, written out on a page. Constantly the poet attempts to conjure up the lost bodies, and throughout there are the names of objects that are asked to present the comfort that the poet is asking for.
It is the very uncomfortable nature of the poet's subject matter that drives the writing to continually circle round the exposed hurts of many of the people that populate the collection. None of them are satisfactory people, all of them seem to be hurting and hurting others too. The poet doesn't let himself off the hook either even though occasionally we find him trying out the heroic stance to push away the more obvious and crushing self-awarenesses that he continually exposes. So again in "The Man Next Door" he first writes of his dreaming "...as a young man, / of common spaces where noble epic / and pole-dance could work together..." and we capture the urgency of his desire, which still hovers round the rim of each of these poems, of youth and the physical needs of youth, sex and ambition, before the reality of the older, non-youthful self kicks in with the rather overblown deflationary statement: "I see now my career's unfolded to the letter."
It is in the letter however that the poet works his way back to the heroic dreams of youth and though the Beckett-like last line of the stanza "But no emission on my sheets is / of evolutionary consequence" might be read as an admission of grave defeat and stoic resignation in the face of extinction, the fact that it is so resolutely Beckett-like reminds us that the poet knows where this kind of line comes from. He still reaches for a kind of immortality and so, like all good poets, is grasping for whatever can be found in the embers and ashes.
Romantic lyric poetry that takes despair and loss as its driving forces can often seem too self-absorbed and selfish and sometimes the poems do indulge a little too much in getting himself off the hook. Relationships that have gone bad are often excused on time passing, carelessness, a kind of fated road rather than anything done by the poet through choice. I guess there's a sense that sometimes you read the poem and think that they let the poet off too lightly. Sometimes you think that he doesn't deserve such a rich consolation of despair. The despairing, dying fall of the voice rinses away a wrongdoing in a way that seems too easy. But then, there are moments of real lyric power and beauty and there are moments of real human closeness and nature which pull you in and deliver awful and terrible dramas. Throughout there are fathers and children, old men and young women, old men and young men facing epiphanies -- and indeed the poetry works through a series of these in order to deliver their bullets-- and at his best he shoves around images to ensure that the moments smash through into the eye with dead-on force.
In "Panic Stations", where the father collapses in one of those domestic scenes Burbridge uses so well to convey the frailty of happiness and which rip apart the thin veneer of routine, he writes "He lay like a stunned mullet. / She picked up the rabbit shits / from the stairs, one by one; / in slow riffs of creak and air / the house slipped back into a kilter, / unable to evict the agency of fear/billeted in her home now / for his private war." And what the poet does so well is captured in this stanza. The destroyed man and the burden men are to their women, the distorted domesticity that men bring through the violence of their weakness rather than their strength, a weakness which he understands as a "private war."
It captures the unique vision of this poet who sees the private wars of men, their hidden worlds that are buried in their heads and are rarely seen, as something precious and yet utterly destructive and dangerous, especially to the women who come to love them. What is interesting is that the poet rarely can go to the final judgement of these wars and condemn them wholeheartedly and there’s a sense that this failure to come down in any image or any poem with a clear sense of what it is that is happening inside these men is actually a mystery to the poet. The poems come out of the secret male places. These are poems that are the poet's own "private war" and it is because of this that they seem so revealing and at the same time secretive. The disorder of the title is the act of poetry itself, the motivation for the lyric anxiety in Burbridge's collection make his poetry a "masquerade" or "a night-shelter / for some lost family or other."
He is writing inside the masquerade, building the night shelter rather than standing ouside it, analysing it, thinking about it. The disorder comes through a collusion with the very forces of destruction about which he writes. There is a confusion in where he stands then, but out of this confusion is the discomforture we as readers feel when reading his poetry. "Hold this focus / and burden; / drenched in tears / and trembling with / the weight of our sorrows / how will we fight?" he asks in "Coalition". It is a brave question to ask, because in these poems you wonder if the voice is "ally or enemy", indeed you wonder if the poet himself is asking the very same question and then diving for cover in case the judgement is too harsh to bear.
Burbridge has conjured up fiercely lyrical, personal voices that scare the hell out of you because they are so unperturbed by their own lack of responsibility. You feel throughout they are the voices of self-pity without a sense of levening responsibility. It is this that gives each poem a powerful undertow of discomfort, agony and bitterness, the sense that these are monstrously lying voices, sociopaths (maybe psychopaths in the case of "Coalition"). The compromised tenderness and strange wrongness reminded me of the kind of voices conjured up by the great Patricia Highsmith; indeed I felt that had her psychopathic hero Ripley gone and lived in Sussex and joined a folk band he might have written these poems. Burbridge is a poet of this dysfunctional sensibility, imagining these terrible, terrified people and their cruel, careless, compromising lives with empathy and tolerance they probably don't deserve. As such, these are poems we should welcome.