Review - Poetry collection by Ed Tapper

Steve Spence

Easy Peelers” by Ed Tapper, pub. Cutty Dyer Press (Plymouth). 81pp.   £10.00

I like the title of this impressive first collection from Plymouth artist/poet Ed Tapper. It made me think of ‘soft-shelled crabs’ but the origin is more immediate in the sense that it refers to the ‘instructions’ on a pack of oranges and I like the way that much of the work in Easy Peelers relates to the way in which we discover language all around us and then play with it.

 

This is poetry about place and people and art and also the period of lockdown that we’ve all been through but mainly it’s to do with the way we all engage with these things through language. As a primarily visual artist Ed Tapper has a way with words which feels fresh and immediate. I love his incessant wordplay which has a wonderful tension between control and ‘letting go’, yet there’s an interrogation of the uses of language which, though often hilarious (he’s a great entertainer, both on the page and as a live performer) also makes you think. There’s certainly a serious side to Tapper’s work and the interplay between this and a desire to amuse is certainly part of the attraction. Take this example from ‘The Lockdown’.

 

          Journeys are no longer necessary

 

          For maintaining a safe distance

 

          By increasing handwashing time to 30 seconds

 

          We can show our support

 

          To essential government agencies

 

          It is essential that in our hearts

 

          We do not stockpile increasing alarm

 

          Your mother will understand

 

          Empty shelves can be very versatile

 

          And we can expect government guidelines to increase

 

 

In ‘Frank Says’ we have a commentary on an ongoing conversation between the author and his artist friend, Frank, which is full of foodie reference and also thoughtful yet entertaining moments musing about art: ‘Turner had to earn a living / From those aristocratic shits / So he painted the infinite / With the little Union Jack / Picked out in the gale.’ Further on we get the following:

 

          Napoleon stands there

 

          Staring into a rock pool

 

          Contemplating a limpet

 

          Or something

 

          It’s a smear of white paint

 

          A similar smear is supposed to be

 

          A hare running in front of

 

          A steam train

 

          ‘Can you see it?’

 

          ‘Well I can clearly see the intention’

 

          ‘Are you sure you don’t want any

 

           Of this sausage, it’s good?’

 

 

The conversation is so good that I probably ought to quote it in its entirety but you get the gist from the above and it’s a piece which combines wit and a focus on friendship and also has something to say about art. In the following poem we have what you might call a philosophical speculation on the nature of conceptual art which is both serious and has a twinkle in its eye:

 

          A Cup

 

          A Cup in a room both

 

          Encloses and is enclosed

 

          By space

 

          The Cup is filled with

 

          The anticipation

 

          Of its function

 

          Carefully place

 

          An empty Cup

 

          Upside down

 

          On the lip of

 

          An identical Cup

 

          And the unfilled Cup

 

          Is filled with

 

          An unfilled Cup

 

This reminds me of Ed Tappers paintings which is hardly a surprise. There’s a mix of process, discovery, struggle and an attempt at communication which follows through into his written work which makes the material so interesting.

 

A back-cover statement by the author says – ‘A poem is a sculpture that manifests in your head, sometimes pieces break off and stay there’ –  and there is certainly a sculptural quality to these poems encapsulated by the often short lines, double spacing, alliterative quality and snappy phrasing:

 

          The shifting bulk of

 

          The shuffling hulks

 

          A settling in the creek

 

          Cracked their heels

 

          In the Dogwater spill

 

          Once raised a sail

 

          To the Westerly wind

 

          On a ship in a bottle

 

          Now linger in the up along

 

          And then there

 

          To here again soon

 

          Muttering on the tide

 

                    (from ‘Camels Head Soup’)

 

These poems provide a play between narrative structures, including a piece on ‘walking the dog,’ non-abstract sound poetry and landscape exploration often related to visual art models. There is plenty of humour and an engagement with language which is exploratory, politically challenging and rich in its phrasing. There are a couple of poems towards the end of the collection which deal in different ways with mortality and the most light-hearted of these, ‘Curtain Call,’ has some wonderfully original  wordplay. The final poem again focusses on the problems around consumption and communication in the age of the internet:

 

          Number 33

 

          If you’ve been affected

 

          By any of the issues in this poem

 

          You can contact our helpline

 

          Or visit our website

 

          If you are a new customer

 

          Please press one

 

          If you have an existing account

 

          Please press two

 

          If you wish to speak to one of our operators

 

          Please press zero

 

          We are experiencing a high volume of calls

 

          At the moment

 

          But we value all our customers

 

          You are number

 

          33

 

          In a queue

 

    

This is a nicely produced publication with typesetting by Liz Sainsbury and cover artwork by Frank Centurion and Ian Sainsbury. I look forward to reading further work from Ed Tapper in due course.

 

 

 

 

Copyright © Steve Spence, 2022