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Review - "Bright Angel Proof" by Nick Power

Charlie Baylis

Bright Angel Proof, Nick Power (£10, erbacce press)

In the spring of 2016 a writer from the small Northwestern town of Hoylake, Nick Power, took a trip flying around America on budget airlines, soaking in all its big ticket tourist attractions and gaudy glories. The trip, and Power’s poems about the trip, come together to form Bright Angel Proof, a collection which evokes beat generation myths of a mystical America, but behind the lines Power knows that the beat generation era is done and perhaps was never really there to begin with. Power is too late to join the ranks of Ginsburg, Kerouac et al but at least he suggests that he might have something to say, which is more than most contemporary poets. Power attracts attention as a kind of modern Burt Lancaster, an adventurer of compelling (North) West Coast vibes and easy going company who, like Lana Del Rey, has ‘feathers in his hair...churning out novels like
Beat poetry on Amphetamines.’

Power’s companion on the trip is his newlywed wife Aja, their frantic reunions are curiously reminiscent of movies, or the memories of movies, as if the images and events captured in his poems could be replaced by alternate realities.  Power’s poetry plays with the reader in the same way that dreams play with the past, there is no way of knowing what is real or imaginary. Aja, Power’s aforementioned wife, seems very real but remains a mystery throughout, though a female presence is welcome, as a lack of a properly defined female presence was one of the failings of the beat generation. The opening poem sets the scene:

Newlyweds: Aja and I gliding across America; not in the old romantic sense of beaten up Cadillac on Route 66, more the cheap modern sense, a world of budget airlines, Holiday Inn trailer parks, infinite gift shops and travelling businessmen, long Uber journeys through midtown traffic, full days spent drinking in sports bars and all-you-can-eat buffets, stumbling drunk up and down the Las Vegas strip without playing a single hand of blackjack, hypnotised by the imitation Eiffel Tower. ’

If the ‘old romantic sense’ is on the road, Power moves it to the air, to the modern ‘world of budget airlines’. The contrast between real and illusion is important. The imitation Eiffel Tower is not real but the feelings it creates are real, in the same way that poetry evocative of the beat generation may not be authentically beat, but it can still be worthwhile, it can still create feelings. None of today’s poets were writing in the fifties, Selima Hill would have been five at the start of the decade, Prynne would have been fourteen, so the material is there to be made new. Power takes his trip with the same lust for life, hard drinking, and ironic attempts at enjoying a phony and see through spectacle as his forebears. If one scene drags on his camera lens for too long, he shrugs and switches to a new one with the same boredom, the same alienation, the same ennui of a young Ginsberg singing from his windows in despair.

Photography is an important influence on Power, particularity the street photography of Vivian Maier and the portraits of Diane Arbus. Power has a gift for bringing our the charmingly odd in people, he is a poet intent on revealing the inner showreel, on magic and mayhem and worlds that do not quite exist. Bright Angel Proof is a kind of anti-travel book, a humble work which focuses on the mundane instead of a grand narrator expecting the ultimate in music or love or understanding in every dim shithole. Power has an enjoyably laid back style, one small criticism could be there is not a huge variety to his poetic voice or language, but that is compensated by Power’s companionableness and subtle charm. Bright Angel Proof is at its best in attempting to find a rational for a seemingly purposeless generation, a generation with nothing to lose in a game where the stakes are so low they do not even exist.

 

Copyright © Charlie Baylis, 2022 

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