Cards on the Table is Jeremy Roberts’ first collection of poetry. His book is packed with poetry that is outspoken, often pugnacious, clearly it is meant to be performed – and he is described, on the back cover, as a performance poet. This poet looks at the world irreverently, expressing strong opinions on subjects such as materialism and terrorism, thus it comes as a surprise in what seems at first to be a strident book when he is also tender, and sometimes profound, about the everyday.
In “Money $hot” we read: ‘the celebration of the buck / is alive everywhere -// in the penthouses & caves,/ school & work/ fucking,/ & in the bugle call of every country.// money -/ is a soul-balm which kicks religion’s ass/ right out of the spiritual park!’ In “White napkins” he writes cynically about: ‘what life is now – waiting for texts & drinking/ expensive coffee…’
Contrast the above with excerpts from “Waiting to see Iggy & the Stooges”: ‘three young women// … in summer dresses & sandals/ were dancing in a field// …in licking, light blue/ rain… & though so many things/ lay waiting on the path ahead -/ so many/ many things// it seemed nothing was hiding from them/ that afternoon.” And “The Missing Child”: ‘a father’s lesson.// I think it worked like this:// I gave you my version of the world -/ which you slowly no longer needed…// which is how it should be.// you grew into yourself’. There is gentleness, no pugnacity, in these words.
Titles such as “Bomb the Poetry Factories”, “Surf Nazis”, “Cyanide Love” and “Green Bluez” might give the book a distinctive rock flavour but there is such a mixture of material that it cannot be branded as such. It is a huge feast of poetry, a smorgasbord, a varied selection to choose from which does include the music scene. We get a look at all aspects of life through the eyes of an observant performance poet and musician.
Roberts is also well-travelled and presents to his readers a particular, clear picture, giving a very good sense of place. In “Irish Bar in Takapuna” we can almost smell the Guinness whilst: ‘here/ the bow sweeps across the fiddle/ & an accordion squeezes/ out the tears – ’.
“Kemang Raya Walk” places us firmly in Indonesia, walking through streets, with flashed details in list form: ‘…steaming blue smoke -/ flower stalls, motorbike babies, rotting rubbish,/ orange & black bajajs, oversize Stupid Ugly Vehicles/ & 3rd dead rat of week – nicely squashed: guts squeezed out -/ like the poor here in Indonesia… …crumbled footpath, perfumed dust, street-food &/ carbonated petrol clouds -’. We feel empathy alongside the poet in this poem.
“Lost & Free on a Street in Jakarta” lists again: ‘zigzagging in rain – among strange rubbish, dirt,/ busted concrete, & revving monster motorcycle-mash of/ commuters…’ and brings us to a gentle conclusion with: ‘new doorways/ tickets to shadow plays/ calls to prayer.’
Cards on the Table is not short on humour. “Push It” is one example: ‘I invented a game called/ “Think Up a Punk Band Name”.// I came up with The Rotting Nuns-/ disgusting everyone/…which… ended the game.’ Another is a one-line poem, “Philosophy” which asks: ‘shall we seek Satan’s help when the aliens come?’
Despite the grim subject, and title, “What IXTAB – the Mayan Goddess of Suicide – Whispered to Me”, Roberts presents to his readers, in prose form, a very funny selection if you have, in fact, ‘had enough of life’s windmill of flying fists’.
– Elizabeth Coleman