Shadows and Flights

Rupert M. Loydell, Talking Shadows

Red Ceilings, 40pp, £6.00, ISBN n/a

reviewed by Martin Casely

Anyone who’s keen to follow the many publications of poet-artist Rupert M. Loydell needs to pick up on his limited-run, small press productions as well as his more accessible, orthodox publications. Fugitive editions abound, mail-art proliferates and every so often, a nicely-produced booklet like Talking Shadows appears in the letter-box. Loydell has been wildly productive ever since his days running Stride magazine in the 1990s and the recent Stride website, and he shows no signs of letting up now. Dear Mary appeared from Shearsman in 2017 and he has been involved in collaborative work for the Knives Forks and Spoons Press, too. Talking Shadows features 20 of his more abstract pieces, but is no less enjoyable for it.

Like many painters, Loydell’s poetry is informed by various strategies and theories: he works mostly in unpunctuated free verse, often producing fairly minimal texts, but also longer sequences. The personal note in his poems may sound convincing, but is often collaged from other source material and he rejects the nakedly confessional. Statements like ‘I am tired of giving up’ and ‘I know everything about the dark’, in the first two poems, should not be taken at face value: the first contributes to a downbeat ‘improvised shimmer’ (‘Downriver’), with all the lack of definition that implies, whilst the second is part of a painterly meditation on sunlight and darkness (the title poem, ‘Talking Shadows’). What does the lazy reader do, then, to avoid grasping at the safety of the first person?

Well, one strategy is to revel in the abstractions so carefully nuanced on the page; another is to learn to appreciate the writer as maker. One long piece, ‘Now Made’, dedicated to the potter Edmund de Waal, meditates on the analogies involved in processes of creation: ‘the unmade / made / the unsaid / said’, language malleable like clay: Paul Celan’s fingerprints on his writing are as visible as de Waal’s on his pots (and, by extension, Loydell’s concerns within the texture of his pieces). Making and the act of remembering are valued in themselves.

In the smaller pieces here (typically 12 to 15 lines long), the danger is to reach the final line with a kind of shrug: some seem poised for flight, but end at the verge, often parenthetically. A piece like ‘And the Beyond’ seems like a brief glimpse of a hunt ­– ‘hounds and horses / at the edge of the field’ ­– then plays with the foxy motif, only to conclude conditionally: ‘if there were more light / & less scent in the wind // run for miles’. Is there more to say beyond this fractured syntax? A deliberate lightness or sparseness seems to be what Loydell prefers. In terms of form, the careful use of step indentations and a certain amount of patterning on the line help to avoid a sense of the staccato, without moving too far from Loydell’s themes: colour, as ever, and the perception of it, are important, and some of the religious images from Dear Mary pop up on occasion.

This does mean at times that the textures in some poems seem slightly interchangeable. On the other hand, other pieces, such as ‘Flyby’, exhibit a more carefully-pruned circularity. Elsewhere, in the single prose sequence included here, ‘Lines of Separation’, Loydell makes more explicit his interest in process by exploring the ‘readymades’ of ‘pop culture’: ‘corrugated metal resonates with DIY aesthetics’: other cut-up artists such as early Cabaret Voltaire and other industrial noise merchants lurk behind such a reference. Loydell’s conclusion here is ambiguous and pessimistic, however: ‘found tunes, good times and sampled beats are used to cover the facade of the museum’, he opines, ‘It is always a question of conjunction, nothing is ever final or complete.’

Is there a relief from pop eating itself, devoid of meaning, then? The final poem here, ‘Hearing Voices’ does suggest a cautious sense of carrying on: ‘forgotten secret places / straight into the future’ are the last lines. This is, however, taken in some kind of context of a falling dream: the song of an autumnal river with which the piece opens, is left behind. The reader must learn to live with ambiguity, with the provisional and conditional, within the abstractions of these recent pieces.