Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Review: The Jealousies by Benjamin Stainton

About two years ago I was asked to write something that might be used for publicity purposes for a forthcoming book of poems. I think I was supplied with a sample of ten poems to be included in the book. I obliged and forgot about it. The other day, I was sent a copy of the book The Jealousies by Benjamin Stainton. We published some of Ben's poems in Issue 21 of The Cannon's Mouth (September 2006).

Perhaps because I was so surprised to find my own name on the cover and the piece I had written quoted in full, I sat down and read the 145 page book from cover to cover. I usually flick through and read at random, but this time was different. I found I couldn't put it down.

The first poem is titled 27th December 1978, probably Ben's birthday. We also know that he was born in Bury St Edmunds and now lives in Suffolk. Locations vary. We find ourselves in Spain, Venice, Istanbul, Bristol, possibly Birmingham, but mostly in rural or coastal locations evoked with an incisive nostalgia.

As the last poem Ebb indicates, Ben has a "country mind". His poems are riddled with rustic country settings, cottages, flowers. As you read, you begin to pick up on repeated words or images like black, smoking, potato eaters, skin and references to parts of the anatomy being eaten. His style seems to baffle the senses. We think we know, but we don't. I wanted to discover his secret. I would like to be able to write like this. Does he simply write a line and jumble the words, or insert words to unhinge the meaning of the line to produce such rich imagery? Why does it work so well? What is the secret to being to write this way?

"...the sounds of floating sobs unwind / My wounds consume this ache like water." (4th April 1998)

Ben said in a recent interview* that "poetry comes more easily than prose, for me. I prefer to write in a non-linear, abstract way, but keep it accessible, hopefully retain an emotional point of contact with the reader, somehow."

He said his major influences were Arthur Rimbaud and Sylvia Plath along with "Keats, Berryman, Eliot, Hemingway, maybe Dylan Thomas"; but he also has influences outside literature - "Van Gogh, and the abstract expressionists; a huge range of music, films, adverts... I also think poetry, and other artforms that may rely on the subconscious, draw on influences already forgotten by the artist."

Asked about his writing style, he said his poems have "surreal elements, but my stuff now tends to be rooted in reality. Maybe a deformed version of reality..."

Yes, I still think "life, death, location, the inner workings of the body, blood and skin are all seamlessly accessed, sometimes all at once." Perhaps that's his secret.

* [Interview] Benjamin Stainton, author of "The Jealousies", New Writing International, 11 December 2008

The Jealousies excerpt

Click here for more information about Benjamin Stainton

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