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Poetry review: 22/03/20



cover Bill Lewis
Our reviewer delves deep into the first part of Bill Lewis' collected poems.

In ‘Horse Drum’, a shamanic journey, Bill Lewis rides to ‘the land of grief’, ‘the land of dreams.’ Here is Freud’s colourful road to the unconscious, to Jung’s shadowy collective consciousness and into the Underworld. Here the protagonist is a god, albeit a small one signified by the lowercase ‘i’. ’i am inspired/ so I may in turn inspire, this circle / must not be broken / for if the imagination should die,/ this world would be unspoken.’ Here is the charge: for those that have ears to hear, to keep creating, listening, inspiring-a perfect circle.


Like Avelino in ‘Avelino and the Gringuita Archaeologist’, it is as if Lewis himself ‘had peeled an/ Orange using the two foot long blade / Of his machete as if it were a penknife, / Offering her its thirst quenching segments. Lewis has great skill and wields the mighty pen both deftly and lightly to carve out these signposts on his life’s journey. The poems take us from ‘Childhood’, all the way to childhood again, this time, a borrowed one, with leaps into adulthood and youth in between. He is a tantalising tease as we have to be currently satisfied with half the orange. I am impatient but this book really is a banquet where one cannot resist going back for second and third helpings of 170 dishes.


In ‘Un-Sonnet’ he wishes to ‘impale somebody on their own iambic pentameter’. For Bill it is important that we go beyond boundaries of the physical and metaphysical world, to see everything, the fox with his father’s gold watch in its mouth, the rabbit running with the crucifix, ’those 2 bombs dropped on Japan’ or ‘El Salvador happening’. Poetry must be observant, truthful, humane, purposeful, must shake the world at a molecular level, must really say something.’ "Say what?" I asked once upon a time. "I do not always know he said, my paintings and poems keep revealing themselves to me, even years later." This is a poet that is a prophet, even in their own life, seeking the meaning in the  artefacts and symbols their subconscious reveals, letting the work guide one into ‘reality’’ where all things are real really, where ‘truth is a traitor’ and ‘truth looks good in any colour’.


His poems are either direct and deceptively simple seeming, but hiding deep profundity or steeped in metaphor, juxtaposing ideas that skim off each other. Some are riddles: In ‘Riddle Song’, he says ‘so tell me who I am. ’ In ‘Dear You’ he calls us to ‘ love you more than you do.’ His thinking is joined up and he sees as one with everything and his poems call for a greater connectedness, and congruence. But still, everything is inside out, turned on its head. Worlds stack like Russian dolls, with ‘Hidden constellations in the crisp fruit flesh’ in ‘Apple Stars’.


Here is Bill Lewis, Kentish man, living in Medway, a champion of the town with a heart to preserve artistic heritage. Lewis, a significant founder member of the legendary Medway Poets. Is he a man or a myth or a bit of both? In the poem, ‘A Lack of Self Knowledge’ he says the ‘human thinks he is a devil but he is only acting’. He is ‘Dancing with the word.’ one wonders if he means that original word made flesh as his poems skirt round god, face him/her head on.


Bill identifies the foolishness and frailties of people but believes in the inherent goodness of man in his original state. Much of his work explores that pool of myth and metaphor of Jungian collective subconscious. He dances with his shadow, kisses the minotaur. In ‘Shaman Song’ - often sung accompanied by a drum - ‘is this a dream i am dreaming’, he steers us to always question, to separate reality from unreality, to then merge them together and see them as one. We see that he doesn't have the answer other than that all things are true especially the things that are not. He is a magical man, and his poems and paintings jump from magical realism to solid reality such as in his Medway poems where he observes people and delights in their expressions, turn of phrase.

His poem, ‘Four Minute Warning, A  Poem For a Wife Who Works In London’ shows us how to turn the ordinary, mundane, fearful into a love story.


The poem ‘Childhood’ explores ‘Knowing the meaning of freedom /But not being/ Able to spell it’ shows the seeds that were in that young apple and how the young Bill’s destiny was set to write his way through the world and to weave himself through its metaphors to find understanding. This man is highly intellectual, his poems are humorous and light, then dark and cloaked. In ‘shapeshifting’; ‘he pulls off his mask, underneath is another mask.’ Bill's works serve to remove masks, expose ‘truths’, or even the lack of it, reveal the shadow self, humanity and inhumanity.

His work shows both compassion but despair at ignorance as he urges us ‘that you look through the mask just once.’

Down into the underworld we go with drums and shamans - he tries redemption but does it work? ‘I shave my body but my shadow remains hairy’. He tames bears and wolves, these become companions guides but the taming of human nature, the discovery of self is eternal.

In his poem, ‘The 20th Century 1’, he explores the artist's role in bringing ‘truth’ and upsetting the fairy tale existence and exposing the threshold and coming of age stories. Of Goldilocks, he says ‘she may have had sex.’ He explores how art shakes thinking and faces us with almost unpalatable truths, ‘Someone has placed modern art in the centre of the room and you can't move without tripping over it’ explores remodernism and the Stuckist movement and Bill’s key place in this historic art/ paradigm shift.

His poems dance at the edge of quantum theory, exploring layers, worlds within worlds, as he tries to understand the nature of things, the mechanics of life, the constructs and deconstructions of social norms and expectations. He reminds us over and over that ‘we are bears, we are bears but some of us are in disguise.’ These poems are like the circus coming to town in Marquez’ One Hundred Years of Solitude, real, and unreal all mixed up, mermaids, cockroaches for spoons: every poem a colourful carnival carriage of magic tricks. Beware those that seem ordinary as they are probably the most magical ones. ’Truth as traitors’, there is no absolutism here. With ‘Jung in Africa’ he wrestles with an angel and dislocates a hip. Learning, knowing, loving, seeking to remove the masks from the face of man/ god will leave one wounded. But the poet is a prophet and a shaman. There is humour and great wisdom. When 'Crow' meets the new neighbours, he says ‘they are just stupid.’


 His love of his town, life, world, ancestry, roots are apparent, Jewish, Christian and pagan symbols abound. He asks at the end in ‘6 minutes and 19 seconds’; ‘perhaps if, when you read this, you can feel as if you were here, we can join the two halves together and it will be perfect.’ The book is all about trying to unify metaphor and myth, the shadow and the higher self, the mundane and the magic, merging ideas and then deconstructing them, then magicking them back to inseparability again as well as  joining up with the second half of his life's work.

I look forward to the reality of the inevitable magic within, I have only held up a few jewels to the light here. This book is a treasure trove that will make you very rich indeed.

Review: Angela Dye.

Get it:


POEMS 1975-2005

Colony Press

ISBN 978-1-9996948-0-7
Buy here

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