Exuberant poetry isn’t all that common. I mean writing that uses, and is about, the energy and chaos of day-to-day life. Maybe because the poems risk becoming annoying and lightweight. And people like me are just programmed to find other adults’ excitement…well, unexciting.
Few can write it well enough to avoid this. The obviously stellar examples are O’Hara and the New York poets. I’d also say Bukowski – since puking ladies and shit-stains on underwear are all part of life (although not mine, thankfully). Notice the absence of English writers!
But whatever the risks (and more about that below), such poems are certainly less tiresome than earnest “well-crafted” pieces, intoning about the west of Ireland or the plight of domestic servants – to mention two ghastly examples, from a collection of excessive tedium. We’ve all been there. The “poetry voice” (“well done for deleting your darlings!”) and hatchet faces. I was once beaten then put out with the bin bags, for yawning at a Su Tenderdrake reading.
I’d say Baylis (note the spelling) is often in the clear on the above, although it’s a close-run thing. I like that “nearly crap but not” aspect, in his work. I think poetry needs to take that risk. He’s read his Rimbaud – the inspiration for my favourite piece here – and also Kennard, so does rather overdo far-flung oceanic imagery or smart surrealism. And personally, I’d like more grime and less travel hits, as in his anthology poem about Crewe.
But that’s just me. It mostly works, and the writing has a welcome energy. A typical example is:
I wept ribbons onto her Jaguar.
On the racecourse I drank
pink champagne at the pony club,
Jesuits ripped the radio up, a girl
gave me a daisy chain that went on forever,
balled over to me in leather boots,
put my foot through the table, since then
I’ve been trying to stay in the now.
(from ‘Pink champagne at the pony club’)
The surreal elements here have little effect on me (throughout the collection he uses very familiar ones: donkeys, crabs and zebras feature later). And the daisy chain – a flashback to innocence – is very Rimbaud like. But then the verbs retrieve things – especially “balled”. The simplicity of that last line is excellent. So, the “problems” don’t spoil this.
But the weaknesses I couldn’t escape were in Baylis’ titles, especially hilda doolittle’s carl jung tee-shirt. That’s not funny or smart enough to avoid seeming very pleased with itself. I’d say he’s a good enough writer to avoid such flaunting.
The same is true of poems dedicated to other poets. His: ‘A whole showroom full of horses – dedicated to Luke Kennard’s planet shaped horse on which this poem was born’, seemed far too close to Kennard. The upfront acknowledgement can’t remove an awkward sense of second-hand material and tone. Given that surreal writing anyway risks sameness, I just can’t see the point of:
I woke up slightly concerned about the size of my feet
“mirror, mirror on the wall,” I called “what about the size of my feet?”
“Minuscule like a mink” said the man in the mirror, I then asked
him to change his ways, “impossible” he demurred “I only have
factory setting”. I tumbled into my clown sized shoes, I had
a play date with Martina (the young girl from the doctor’s).
She is half my size but cute like a kitten bounced by a ball of rubber bands,
I took her to see ‘A whole showroom full of zebras’ at the County Hall…
However, my favourite piece, ‘Antidotes’, escapes these problems – and has the best title. Here Baylis seems both freer and much more imaginative. It helps that it’s prose poetry, which combines Rimbaud-like recollections and use of Spanish and New York scenes and allusions. But above all, it has much more focus, a much clearer idea of what it’s doing. I loved the use of Rimbaud – especially the Marseilles hospital where he died – and the haunting suggestion that he left treasures of undiscovered African writing.