Michael Tolkien

Paul McLoughlin

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 rôles.


‘…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

that’s free-ranging but accessible.




(Sent to PN Review but not published)