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Categories: 21st Century, British
Imprint: Carcanet Poetry
Publisher: Carcanet Press
Paperback (80 pages)
(Pub. Sep 2013)
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
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
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
'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.... Shostakovichâs inner life was like âan incessantly running motor, an ever-open woundâ. It is this ârunning motorâ to which Reeves listens so carefully in these poems, matching Shostakovichâs 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 Shostakovichâs soul, a man haunted by his past and its effect on his art: âYears ago I listened to the noise of time. / It took revenge. Now I want /noise out of timeâ. 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 '...in 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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