Poetry review: 6/7/21
by Mark Connors
... (a) talent for using the simplest language to express the most complex of concepts…
Until ten years ago, ‘Optics’ referred to the study of the behaviour of light. It still does, but now also describes the way a situation is perceived by the public: how an event, or course of action, might be viewed by others.
I suspect Mark Connors had the second definition in mind when he put together this collection, not least for the repeated references to Philip Larkin, known for his ironic distances from his subjects, but also his obsession with how his work might be received. The first poem marks Connors out as observer rather than participator - it tells of a fly-tipped sofa by a field, a perfect place to observe; yet Connors imagines the sofa itself is observed, to see who “will be bold enough to take a seat”. He is, and does, and so this collection begins, packed with witty, musical observations on politics, religion, family, love.
The love poems are magnificent. I beg you to read this collection for their sake alone. How can a poet speak of love without resorting to cliche? Connors does it, three times, in Under the Stars, Love Rant from Leeds (“She comes over ‘ere, with ‘er fancy ideas/About making me ‘appy an’ that”) and All You Need is Love. These are poems where love appears as a character in its own right, flesh and breath, contrary and confusing, but necessary as the light that dapples these pages. Light is everywhere. “All light is the same”, the titular poem begins:
when you open your eyes
it’s you who makes the light
not what or who you look upon,
until the who looks back at you.
Connors was a lyricist before he was a poet, and his talent for using the simplest language to express the most complex of concepts makes that abundantly obvious.
Light as metaphor is utilised particularly well in Three Candles, a reflection on 1970s power cuts, dad reimagined as Jesus, finding the candles that might light their family gathering, “cheese and onion Discos our body of Christ”. Beautifully done. His dad makes a second appearance in I Wish, where Connors dreams of himself as someone who could fix stuff, make it, not always have to “get a man in”. His fantasy is given such tremendous colour, noises, textures, tastes, incorporating the new accent and parlance he might adopt, his new indifference to dirty fingernails: making the last line - “make my father prouder, posthumously” - a brilliant tear-jerking gut punch.
Familial environments are given a deft Larkin-esque reimagining in This Be the Truth, which opens “They fuck us up, our mums and dads / Of course, we fuck them over too”; a consideration of the many beastly ways children can break their parents. It’s funny, arch, knowing, but heartfelt and involving too, a joy to read aloud. Connors has a real talent for finishing you with a real belter of a final line. No anti-climaxes here.
This is a self-consciously middle-aged anthology, with many of the poems concerned with finding your place, your peace. “There’s something about the middle of things / The middle of the heart where the good stuff gets you”, he writes in Middling; while in Home is not Sad (reprise), a homage to Larkin’s Home is so Sad, he takes the tiny comforts that brought Larkin such pain and sees them as joyous representations of our true selves, our corporeal legacy to the universe. It’s a glorious piece, and a true triumph of his intended aim to drag Larkin “a little less miserable and a lot more left”.
Small triumphs and the pleasure they bring pepper this collection. I’m so glad I read it, and urge you to do the same.
Review: Melissa Todd
OPTICS by Mark Connors