Here’s a little review of a pamphlet by my friend and outstanding poet Ben Norris. If anyone out there is interested in what the cutting edge of contemporary poetry looks like, then this is the thing to read. I should also say that if you want to see an amazing performance and Mr Norris is ever in your area, then I’d recommend (scratch that, insist) you go see him – because my oh my you’ll be in for a deliciously witty treat.
But back to the review.
The pamphlet opens with ‘Breaking Cobs’, a poem that explores the difficulty of defining an identity when you live in the ‘midlands’. Linguistics, pronunciation, identity through language are all interlinking themes that sow their way throughout the pamphlet and are clearly pertinent to the author. The sensitivity and restraint with which he makes his points is also exquisite: ‘we draw join-the-dot pictures / with our stories / from other / more tangible places’. Anyone who has been to an open mic night will know there are poems about identity aplenty. They are often full of rage and self-pity which detracts from the true power and pathos of the issue: alienation.
Ben does not leave the poem as an unresolved complaint however, he turns it masterfully by bringing the title back into the poem: ‘United by the way we greet / and what we call our bread’. The image of breaking bread is a universal and ancient symbol that is perhaps most familiarly rooted in the Bible. To ‘break bread’ with someone is to share an accord. Ben takes this ancient ideal and shows its application in our modern world – as the symbolic bond held between ‘Scattered’ friends across the country. This brings up another key theme pervasively running through his work: modernity, the urban world and how it affects us.
I myself was born a southerner in Poole Hospital, but my mother was from Sunderland: which means I give bath, grass their hard ‘a’s and rhyme scone with gone, but then don’t rhyme book with fluke like most northerners would. Because of this I feel real connection to this poem. And the thing is, it’s something we all can relate to: deep down we’re afraid of being outsiders and we all find common ground with our fellow man in unanticipated ways. Like what we call one thing or another.
There are many other gems in this collection. ‘Role Play’ left me with my jaw hanging open when I first read it, and Ben’s artful concision really comes in to play with making you feel every line layer and build. The last line delivers a worthy emotional punch.
My favourite poem by far in this collection has to be ‘Surprise’, but to tell you about this poem would be to ruin the ‘Surprise’, and, like a magician’s trick, break the magic it’s going to work on you.
I do have a criticism for ‘Nasty Little Intro #9’: it’s far, far too short. This is really a scintillating canapé, the smallest but most intense of starters, and one is hungry for the main course afterwards. One can only hope the period is brief before Ben brings out a whopping great big collection (or a play, or a novel – anything – please!) and satisfies the hunger he has ignited.
Thanks for reading.
If you are interested in purchasing a copy of this collection please follow this link: http://www.nastylittlepress.org/books/nasty-little-intros/