Poetry Review: 14:10:19
THE ENGLISH DISEASE
by Lydia Towsey
Our reviewer finds these poems fierce and fun.
I’ve been putting off reviewing Lydia Towsey’s collection of poems. It’s not that I don’t like the poems. In fact, at their best, they are fierce and fun: they take the political and the personal and stir them around with an irreverent, grinning anger.
My problem with The English Disease is one I’m sort of embarrassed to admit. It’s too long. There, I’ve said it. I’ve tried to be delighted that you get 177 pages of poems for £9.99. But I’m not. I felt something was lost in the poet’s curation of the collection. Although the book has headings that help you navigate through the many sections, I still felt I was being given everything. And that less might be more.
But, with that said – there’s a lot to love in here. ‘To My Younger Self’ is an original and poignant poem with enough gaps not filled in, to be truly intriguing.
‘I wouldn’t mention the bathrooms’
Her approach is unsentimental - almost brutal,
‘That you are circling the plughole’
but this is nicely balanced by the real warmth that comes through – sometimes directly and sometimes written between the lines.
In the beautiful poem, 'My Ruby Rose', Towsey takes us dancing through the poetic to the mundane and back again.
‘Born of flowers, flags and fog,
precious rock, fused bone,
you’re the film I want to watch-
a sun-dance soliloquy of babbling brook
singing tongues into the daybreak,
noontime, nightingale and luna moth.’
Once she’s lulled us into the rhythm of this incantation to her baby, she pulls us back into the real world of Mothercare and oxytocin. I don’t care. It makes it all the more hypnotic to slip back into the specific jargon of a mother’s love,
Towsey’s writing is intelligent – it challenges the reader at the same time as it makes you laugh – sometimes out loud and sometimes inwardly with only a quirky, twisted half smile to show for it.
‘Making Tea for Natalie – an apology for recklessness’ makes me want to be best friends with the poet. (If she will forgive me my lightweight approach to collection length.) I want her to make my tea ‘too intimately’ and to make it with ‘poor hygiene and socio-political etiquette.’ I want to talk to her about the Hobnob of history.
‘To Our Visitors – for the EDL (English Defence League)’ is a powerful poem and one that will strike a chord with anyone horrified and ashamed to see the far right taking to the streets of their town. (For me, memorably, Britain First’s attempted march on Rochester High Street.)
‘How dare you empty out the streets
and draw your lines around our lampposts?’
She’s a master at painting with the inane details that conjure more than just a picture,
‘On the high street there’s a man
pissing outside Boots.
In the centre, by the tower,
the air is thick and hard like glue.’
The phrase, ‘The cavalry is kettling’ is so beautifully crafted– fusing the worst of England then and now.
I might want ‘The Zombie Tale of Tom Kitten’ (complete with photos) to be printed as an eccentric little book of its own but I know I can’t have everything – not in austerity Britain where the price of publishing and artistic poverty mean that maybe a bumper collection is the only way to get your work out there. And I’m thankful Towsey’s work is out there – in all its funny, quick, cutting and lovely complexity.
Review: Sarah Hehir.
Lydia Towsey – The English Disease
Burning Eye Books