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Nuncle Music

Gareth Reeves

Cover of Nuncle Music by Gareth Reeves
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Categories: 21st Century, British
Imprint: Carcanet Poetry
Publisher: Carcanet Press
Available as:
Paperback (80 pages)
(Pub. Sep 2013)
£9.95 £8.96
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  • Death is simple, after all

    Death is simple, after all
    (stabbing through the eyes for instance,
    or nails pounded into the skull
    in regular staccato over and over).

    If a person’s to die, he’ll die anyway,
    if a person’s to live, he’ll live anyway,

    but I prefer to tiptoe,
    a grotesque elephant dance.

    In his dacha Club Foot
    twitches an eyebrow,
    and that’s it, you’re done for,
    the little runt is dead.

    I lead a charmed life: I live.

    Some charm, some life.
    ‘You must not take me at my word, / you must take me at my lack of word, / you must take me at my music.’ In Nuncle Music, a sequence of monologues ‘spoken’ by the composer Dmitri Shostakovich, Gareth Reeves presents the psychodrama of an artist forced into the service of tyranny. Though the terror and intrigue of Soviet life haunt the poetry, acerbic wit and mischief are also here: Hamlet farts through a flute, Stalin plays the triangle, and up in space cosmonaut Gagarin sings a song by Shostakovich of ‘intergalactic platitudes’.

    Barrie Ormsby’s drawings provide a vivid accompaniment to Reeves’ poems.
    Revolution is the getting 
    Listen, I give you sound 
    I said I went to the Finland Station 
    The future, it will blow over 
    Muddle Instead of Music 
    These guts churn. The world goes out of focus 
    Wind-up people, we are all wound up 
    The circus is pure art 
    Hamlet farts through a flute 
    No toadstools? 
    An anthem, do me an anthem 
    The production of souls 
    The Nose: an anarchist’s hand bomb 
    One day a sparrow flew into my dacha 
    We are the masterpiece makers 
    The sky is dressed in a gendarme’s blue-grey trousers 
    I am possessed, the Boss’s pet 
    The Morning Greets Us with Coolness 
    Composers must master one instrument at least 
    One-ski, two-ski, three-ski 
    Devils, enemies of the people 
    We live in the dark 
    Death is simple, after all 
    You are hungry 
    Best not write anything big on days 
    The bigger the lie the more you’ll get the point 
    Thank you, everything is fine 
    I’m no Pasternak, no pig kicked 
    Look at that smile 
    Dim-witted workers of the ‘punitive organs’ 
    Scotch the formalist snake 
    God walked in the Garden of Eden 
    What a disgusting 
    Do not contemplate the navel of art 
    Play it so that flies drop dead in mid-air 
    The Steel Man sings 
    Sergei Prokofiev is dead 
    Art is arrogant, it takes no hostages 
    The delicious word death, my foot 
    Art belongs to the people 
    Bloody Sunday? 
    Suddenly I am absolved 
    Let us sing a song 
    Deputy to the Supreme Soviet 
    Everyone wants to be clean 
    Gagarin sings my song in space 
    I have wept three times 
    An improvised life, what is that? 
    Pyotr Ilyich said there is no point 
    Genius and villainy are compatible 
    Paranoia is still my fix 
    I have met history coming the other way 
    The grave straightens out the humpbacked 
    I pretend to pen great thoughts 
    Unlucky in cards 
    And outside in 
    I lift the receiver 
    Are they taking good care of you 
    Gymnastics for the dying 
    Today I would make silence 

    Further Reading 
    Gareth Reeves studied at the University of Oxford and at Stanford University, where he held a Wallace Stegner Writing Fellowship. Until recently he was Reader in English at Durham University, where he ran an MA creative writing course in poetry. Carcanet Press have published four collections of his poetry, Real Stories ... read more
    'It isn't easy for a poet to keep faith with Shostakovich, for whom words solved nothing, whose resort was music and, beyond that, self-defeatingly and only in imagination, silence. Reeves does just that.'
    Gillian Allnutt
    'A compelling psychodrama about the tangle of self-justification, guilt and defiance that has turned Shostakovich ... into a paradigm of the conflict between artistic integrity and political compromise.... Shostakovich’s inner life was like “an incessantly running motor, an ever-open wound”. It is this “running motor” to which Reeves listens so carefully in these poems, matching Shostakovich’s expedient avoidance of too clear an equivalence between meaning and expression with language that plays similar equivocal tricks.... But Reeves sees, beyond the irony in Shostakovich’s soul, a man haunted by his past and its effect on his art: “Years ago I listened to the noise of time. / It took revenge. Now I want /noise out of time”. The rest is silence.'
    Andrew McCulloch, TLS June 6 2014
    Praise for Gareth Reeves '"The Cockroach Sang in the Plane-tree" surprisingly bypasses the personal dimension altogether. Even more startling is the liturgical momentum of its lines, a series of bleak declarations about nuclear annihilation whose potency remains undiminished in a post-cold war context."
    Keith Silver, London Magazine
     'Among the most remarkable [poems] are those which pay tribute to his father and the latter's struggle against his growing blindness... The honesty of these poems, and the way they cope with the complexity and ambiguity of emotion which perhaps must always inform the relationship between son and father are truly admirable.'
    John Heath-Stubbs, Acumen
    ' the sequence entitled "Going Blind", in which he recalls his father James Reeves... he constructs nothing less than a living memorial in verse... By making his difficult poetic inheritance part of the subject of his verse, Gareth Reeves, paradoxically, has written his most original work to date.'
    Robert Nye, The Times
     '...his images, seen through the lens of memory, are sharp and distinct... Perhaps it is when dealing with individuals that Reeves's wry insight shows to best advantage; those, and the complications and inadequacies of love. A friend, having borrowed the book, remarked: "Usually, I can't take more than two or three poems at a time; but I kept on reading this to find out what happens next!" Which seems to sum up these compulsive, memorable, well-crafted poems.'
    David Holliday, Outposts
    'Gareth Reeves's Real Stories is his first book of verse, and a very good one... Nothing is smooth or bland or hinted at. Translations from Horace, American landscape, even the lyrical harking back to Tennyson...; he handles them all well.'
    Gavin Ewart, British Book News
    '...he writes a quiet undemonstrative poetry but that is not so say he lacks scope or ambition. He says somewhere that "honesty is difficult / Devious, silent". The poems are usually short but carefully constructed around perceptions of loneliness, full of sharp but discreet observation that mounts like evidence.'
    George Szirtes, Critical Quarterly
    '...distinguished by economy, quiet wit and resolute affection... Real Stories is enlivened by a central section of poems set in California, an inspired location - imagine Joan Didion, say, in Durham. The strangeness of both landscape and people is wryly observed... This marriage of down-to-earth observation with off-beat material works well.'
    Charles Boyle, London Magazine
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