Doglike and Un(in)formed

Poetry chapbooks by Bearded Badger Publishing Company – reviewed.

Bearded Badger Publishing Company has chosen two contrasting chapbooks to open the account of its poetry press TRA[verse]. As a writer of prose which wants often to arc-spark across into poetry, reading verse is for me an inspirational walk through the landscape of language. We really all should go there far more often.

In her collection Un(in)formed Becky Deans employs traditional forms (sonnet, villanelle, haiku) but is not excessively formal about metre, and I find her poems sound great when read aloud.

There’s a tension in the language, behind the early Midlands mentions: Leicester, Codnor – concrete confinement and limiting labels, the brutal regimentation behind the Pantry door. And there, just past the middle of the chapbook, When Did You Stop Learning Baby? and the follow-up Domestic set out very plainly the (lack of) distance travelled since the days of those force-fed suffragettes. The focus is on the quotidian, for how else are we bound but by the closest things around us?

Environmental concerns make themselves felt across the opening poems, amid car parks and concrete, taking us to threatened countryside for Pastures New, and culminating in Slab, when at last “Concrete pervades everything” and we see where the process is leading. Suppressed nature, in both human and environmental terms.

It would be great to hear Becky read some of these poems aloud herself soon, along with others.

There’s more concrete, and more car parks, in Doglike by Rory Aaron. Yet these poems aren’t urban in the sense of hip-hop vernacular; indeed, they’re quietly erudite, picking up on the oaken aspect of the River Derwent’s name, for example.

But those moments gleam like broken glass under sunlight in the streets roamed by the Doglike characters, voices cracking and fractured through short, fragmented lines, arguing and hectoring as they sprawl and brawl across the pages. Or pause, as in A year of minor heart attacks, Saying hello and the closing Small city, for descriptive passages that still speak rhythmic and raw from the page. Read aloud, dear reader, read allowed!

The central Dog figure doubles as a modern manifestation of Ted Hughes’s Crow, engaged in metaphysical conflict with God, against whom (spoiler alert!) he triumphs, reigning over a wasteland. These poems feel like part of a wider narrative – I would not be surprised to read more about Dog, and I would be very disappointed not to see lots more from Rory Aaron.