Review (ish) – Robeson, Fitzgerald and Other Heroes, Robert Nisbet

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We have enjoyed publishing several poems by Robert Nisbetso an immediate purchase of his new pamphlet (winner of the 2017 Prole Pamphlet Competiton) was a no-brainer in this house.

The majority of the poems are written in the past tense, and only a couple are written from a first-person perspective, the latter showing Robert’s maturity as a writer (and, I should guess, as a human being – reading books of resolutely first-person perspective poems can sometimes feel a bit like being coshed over the head). The overriding impression is the fond recollection of a older world, with many of the poems written about children and youths which he emphasises by stating the age of the the well-drawn characters – here fifteen, there ten, the under-twelves training on the pitch, each of them clearly viewed from a distance. There is a constant sense that he is trying to capture a time and place (very Welsh) on the page before the memory of it disappears altogether.

In Halley’s Comet we have an explicit comparison presented to us, of the differing worlds that the comet passed over in 1910 and 1986, and a sense that the poet feels that things have perhaps taken a turn for the worse. With Life Drawing (probably my favourite poem in the book) he presents an old woman posing nude for an art class, delineating her physical and emotional history, contrasted with the drawing students’ ignorance of her secrets. I felt a certain niggle here, with the idea that such history can be ignored and lost. The closing poem A Calendar for 1970 addresses this even more directly, showing how a reader in 2010 can take a book written forty years earlier and through it get a real grasp of the emotional geography of an earlier era when the writer was capturing it on the page. This felt like the poem that explained what the poet was trying to achieve with the whole book.

Throughout, the people and their stories that populate these pages are vivid and authentic, the emotional force cleanly depicted with concrete imagery and language that rarely disappears into abstraction, and therefore holds your attention closely. I read the whole thing in one sitting and never felt bored. Which is as good as it gets, really.

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