The Hungarian Who Beat Brazil Shoestring Press (2017)
This is a colourful journey through a wide range of emotions and experiences,
tough on the ludicrous, generous to what enhances our lives. The poet-guide can be
truculent, even a little perverse but invariably companionable and wise in his puzzled
curiosity. Technically you’re in good hands: his choice of form is apt, and in verbal
free-fall he knows when to pull the rip-cord.
Recollections of repressive schooling, discovering musical tastes, toys and games
to die for, the disturbances of puberty (finely formalised in a mock-Petrarchan sonnet
praising anticipation) are never just that but feel like relived experience. They
evoke an era but hint at learning curves, which resonate throughout the book. Hearing
‘ a bubbly bloke in a rush’ ask Mr Davies (who ran ‘The Dolls Hospital’ newsagents)
‘if he’d any dirty books’, he says:
‘…No one in his right mind’d go back there…’
But we do. Don’t accept the ‘dismissive’ or aphoristic McLoughlin at face value.
He provokes you into taking another look, not just in more intense poems like ‘Want’,
the monologue of a disappointed father in a baffling world, or ‘Ritual’, a religiously
sceptical farewell funeral sequence for the poet Brian Jones. There’s also an undertow
in the quizzical but affectionate glances at suburbia, the business of writing or
teaching poetry, the emerging imagination of children, or, right at the end of the
tour, when he appears to sign off in the guise of an Horatian epistle but implies
that you need to know who are to move on as a poet.
The blurb commends his ‘clarity and exactitude’ but it’s the density and ambiguity
that compel you back. In ‘A Selfie Sextet’ contrasting poems envisage the creation
of ‘image’ and street cred. In an amusing take on the failure of Bottom and Titania
to ‘make it’ she’d coated herself in layers of preservative:
‘…believing somehow that they made
a better version of herself, as if there might be others.’
The various delusions and near-torture are instructively comic, but there’s a reverse
side: without this endeavour wouldn’t it be a duller world? And the observer’s self
is subtly involved.
This open-ended approach enlivens poems focused on an unstable, shifting urban
scenario or the odd assortments of possessions we accumulate. Vividly kaleidoscopic
they play out like documentary film with an unscripted, perplexed commentator. In
‘House’ a man sits out a demolition under blankets to survive only as a news-item.
Our homes are mere heaps of dust.
I see him exploded into particles of time
to make the evening news…’
In contrast ‘There’s A Good Service on All Other Lines’ (from the nearby station
tannoy) juxtaposes the poet’s untidy, vibrant living space with images of Lake District
holiday views and ‘massaged’ activities. This typifies how the collection aligns
disparate experiences into an unsettling dialogue.
Angrier reactions to facile bureaucracy over parking and a loud-voiced plane passenger
feel like our own head-storms, engaging us with self-mockery and a sense of our minuscule
‘…I don’t know why I’m telling you-
you’ll only smile to yourself
and the world will go on as before
with the loudness in it…’
Is the title surprising? Florian Albert’s elegant footballing is a touchstone,
artistry at one with itself among confusion, conflict and misplaced values. It unites
son and father; even some central images are his. Understated praise and spare two-liners
with periodic enjambment echo Albert’s ‘close control, his poise’.
‘…he was a dancer with the ball
tied to his boot; the way he’d
glide. He floated over grass
like a human hovercraft, you said.
In ‘Improvisation’ McLoughlin suggests true musical invention uses yet transcends
set forms. Whether or not he achieves this as a jazz musician, it applies to poetry