“Couples” by Michael Stewart

9781908853226

What makes a good poem ? What makes you read beyond the first line ?
A few things stand out.

Brevity, for a start. By and large the long-form narrative poem is dead ( Reading “Paradise Lost” ? Maybe you should get out a bit more.) Poetry is shrinking and the haiku is king.

Balance. A good poem is a deeply felt, personal response to experience. On the other hand, it must strike a universal chord with the reader. It must make the reader empathise, or at least respond to the ideas on the page.

It’s a difficult balance to strike.

A good poem is accessible. If it’s Eliot’s “ The Waste Land “( with added notes !) then I’m not interested. Pretention and self obsession are real turn-offs. But it mustn’t be trite, or cliche-ridden either. There’s nothing more depressing than feel-good poetry.

Another difficult balancing act.

How does the poem relate to other poems ?

Now I’d never thought of this until I read “Couples “ by Michael Stewart ( pub: Valley Press £6.00.) This is a short collection of 24 poems, placed in twelve pairs that face each other across the page. The two halves of each couple are complementary – “ Cam” and “ Shaft”, “ Hook” and “ Clasp.” It’s a brilliant idea and it works well- your feelings about one poem are filtered through your feelings for the other.

Some of the pairings are quite formal- “Him” and “Her” explore differing attitudes to sex. For Him
‘He only felt loved
after sex sex for him
was his lover giving herself to him..”

And for Her:
“she would only have
sex if she felt loved
when he came to her”

Balanced, clever and formal- but watch out for the sting in the tail, which I won’t ruin for you.

Michael Stewart is really sharp with relevant detail- a week’s menus, favourite films, the imprint of a lover’s lipstick on a tissue- it all adds up to an intricate account of the things that keep people together, whether they are “standing next to each other/ two sheep in a field” or “two moving parts/rubbing together/until they stick.”

This collection ticks all the boxes I set out at the beginning – it’s concise, accessible, and resonant.

And I loved it.

You can buy “ Couples” here:

http://www.valleypressuk.com/books/couples/

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