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Review - "as nettle and ivy permit" by Peter Dent

"as nettles and ivy permit" by Peter Dent, pub. Kaleidikon, at the five amber lamps (self-published). 32 pages

It sometimes happens when you become totally engaged with a poet’s writing that you reach a point where you think you’ve seen it all and you begin to wonder what might be coming next that you haven’t already experienced in one form or another. This is perhaps inevitable if a/. you read too much poetry (!) an b/. given the amount of material now being published, perhaps it’s just inevitable even with ‘the good stuff.’ I was having this thought about Peter Dent’s work – which I very much admire, by the way – when his new pamphlet/chapbook hit the deck through my letterbox. When I got around to perusing the package (neat cover, abstract with nicely balanced shapes and muted colours – one of Dent’s own I think) it didn’t take long before my somewhat melancholy preconceptions were thoroughly overturned. The poems herein are all composed as couplets, usually of either seven or eight stanzas and mostly with one poem per page. They are ‘typically Dent’ in the sense that they are puzzling, witty, fragmentary snippets which when placed together to create ‘a whole’, create a sort of pattern which weaves in and out of logic and which can make you laugh out loud as well leaving your brow well and truly furrowed. They are ‘of the world’ and yet create their own internal ‘meanings,’ as both writer and reader play a game of interpretation and communication which is thoroughly engaging and open to potentially provisional play. This may a short collection but you could, if you wish, spend a lot of time working over these runes and have a lot of pleasurable moments in the process. How Peter Dent manages to keep it all so fresh is beyond me but he does so here with panache and energy. Here’s just one poem by way of example, followed by a few thoughts which will complete this short review:


          For years I’ve trafficked in matter beyond everyday parlance.
          Like the full moon jumping over the roof I’m staying sober.

          Without good reason to weep I weep.   You wonder why.
          Preparation comes pretty soon after overdoing it.

          It’s not that people dream of the rat race to get out of it …..
          Bit by bit the stranger in my journal’s getting to know me.

          A passing acquaintance with one world’s better than none.
          Conspiracy is feeling fragile the moment the wind picks up.

          Getting somewhere was always in my mind so I thought.
          These days I don’t so much ask around as tell myself what.

          Fragrance in your hair forgets how far I am from home.
          One puts up with shadows just to learn where and when.

          The narcissist meets his match – waking with a sore head
          our old Norwegian Blue’s still not mincing his words.

The opening line can be read as a brief description of Dent’s own working methods and is thus a serious statement but it’s also hilariously funny, at least I felt so. Not half, I thought to myself and chuckled but you can read all sorts of other possibilities into that line and weave in your own narrative. This is what his poetry can do as you engage with his thought processes your own come into play. Writing is always as much about the reader as the writer but in this kind of material that concept is very much to the fore. If you’re looking for an easily digestible ‘I’ve got it, now I can move on’ sort of poetry you may need to look elsewhere but the process of engagement is always so stimulating. The line ‘Bit by bit the stranger in my journal’s getting to know me’ is another which resounds, full of resonance and self-interrogation, yet a wonderful encapsulation of the process of writing itself. Each line can take you off on your own tangent(s) and the interplay between lines is endlessly fascinating as ‘new readings’ seem always available. The overall balance between sentences is well-measured and these poems are easy to read through to yourself, slowly or at a gallop before you might decide to poke around a bit, risking a tentative interpretation or two. The final couplet may provoke an investigation into origins, for example as the narcissist awakes from some sort of encounter (with whom we may ask?) and has a sore head. Ok, so far so good but what about the old Norwegian Blue? Could this be the deceased parrot from the Monty Python sketch I wonder, a Norwegian Blue I seem to recall? That bird certainly had a sore ahead after the battering John Cleese gave it and wasn’t likely to be mincing its words any time soon thereafter.

I could go on but the delight of these poems for me is the way in which they provoke the reader’s imagination and if you find yourself even remotely on Peter Dent’s wavelength you could have a lot of fun ‘uncovering’ his work. If you’re a fan or aware of his poetry and like it you won’t need convincing but to those others who may come across this review and don’t know about him this is a challenge. Go on, dip in and explore. You’ve nothing to lose but your poetic inhibitions.



Copyright © Steve Spence, 2021


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