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Review - "Angels the Size of Houses" by Aaron Kent

Steve Spence

"Angels the Size of Houses" by Aaron Kent, pub. Shearsman. 71 pp


The last book by Aaron Kent I read – St Day Road – caused me some problems. Clearly there was something interesting going on but it didn’t really work for me and the small text/typewritten script with its varied versions and crossing-outs annoyed me rather than drew me in. I was missing the point no doubt but I rather lost patience and probably exhibited a degree of bad temper by the end of the review. The experience of encountering the current collection couldn’t have been more different. I was hooked by the end of the first poem, ‘Vanilla’, a contemplation on his young children, I assume, which ends thus: ‘My eyes; a mistake on a post-modern canvas, / two holes in a hot air balloon, watching angels / kiss the back of their necks.’


While there is a strong sense of the domestic in these poems there’s also an exotic element which makes this very much Poetry with a capital P even though it’s thoroughly readable and intriguing to engage with. I’m reminded at times of John Ashbery but that doesn’t quite do it and the mix of delicious lyricism, unexpected wordplay and rhythmic dexterity is so pleasurable ‘to the touch.’ It’s sensuous stuff but also quite cerebral and always full of interest – you have to keep reading – even when you are puzzled and full of questions. The key, as with a lot of good contemporary poetry, I think, is to relax, go with the flow and enjoy the process of ‘thinking about’ while also letting it all wash over you. Further readings entice new thoughts and feelings and in fact after encountering these poems initially on a couple of quite bumpy bus journeys I went back to them later and had a completely different experience of retrospection. Time and space seemed quite altered; I guess that’s the best way of putting it!


          Container Poem /

          A Space for Improvement


          My hypnotherapist tells me

          sharks chase nuclear bombs

          when we watch the news

          too much, and I press the



          I have given her all of the

          planets in tiny rubber marble

          form, all of them except Earth

          which I need if I’m ever to visit



This feels like an encapsulation of a virtual reality view of the world, aided by twenty four hour media saturation but there’s also an element of critique here which suggests a new way of engaging with the overload. ‘Iona’ hints towards Chagall – ‘you could talk / to the birds / and be their jewels / heaven sent’ – while in ‘The Reservoir’ we have a more hard-hitting political approach which resurfaces throughout the poem while embracing a range of beautifully integrated thoughts and imagery:


                                                             They taught


          us to learn a trade, to unclog their shit

          or rewire their house – so we could value

          ourselves by how much they valued

          our labour. You were a semi-detached

          chav, I was terraced scum, the suffocation

          of an estate still squeezed the core of us.

          Your being was a furry apple, too long


          in the bowl to be eaten, too fresh to be

          thrown away. ………


In ‘Feralism 101’ (a hint to Orwell?) we have what appears to be a badger’s viewpoint of ‘the cull,’ also suggesting perhaps Kafka (‘The Burrow’) and reminding me strangely of Richard Berengarten’s powerful poem Angels, though stylistically there is little common ground. ‘The Old Man, The Boats’ begins with the arresting line ‘I’d rather be the fish than the fisherman’ then skirts around Hemingway, including the intriguing lines – ‘Those weighted principles of sound / dispersal lean heavier underwater: / the doppler effect a protest song, / cavitation a calculation’s difference / between a Russian sub and an / orchestra of shrimp.’ Apart from the nautical references the opening lines of this section could well-relate to the balance of sound and image which permeates these beautifully constructed if wildly imagined poems.


There’s a dreamy surrealist-influenced aspect to this collection which I find very attractive and this is certainly a collection I’ll be revisiting and dipping into.


I have to admit finally that the substantial back-cover endorsement by J.H. Prynne makes this an irresistible read. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed if you decide to take up the challenge.



Copyright ©  Steve Spence, 2021

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