From Under The Radar, July 2014
The Sun Bathers Roy Marshall (Shoestring Press, 2013, £9.00, ISBN:978-1-007356-85-8)
Roy Marshall’s new collection is ambitious in scope, scrupulous and well-wrought in design; his ‘plain style’ that invariably rewards re-reading, does not patronise his readers, rather challenges them to inhabit and re-imagine zones of experience and memory.
Marshall produces poems of singular and haunting imagery in his exploration of edge-lands and borders hinted at, flickered back alive; he has a fine ear and rhythmic sense. Above all, he knows when to stop, allowing the narratives and observations (Marshall, like Hardy, ‘notices’ things) due breathing space. This works especially well when he is exploring ‘spots of time’ from school and childhood memory (see ‘Aim Higher’ and ‘The Lesson’ for example) and in his appreciation of the natural world and its impact on the human condition (as in ‘Speed of Clouds’ and ‘Season Rings’, ‘Blackbird in Winter’ for example). Here is one of them:
Something frisks, drops
across my sight, stops in hawthorn’s
light-gleam held in your black bead eye,
ruffled fellow traveller, gone
from my pilgrim path.
Marshall’s high level of craftsmanship is evident (he has learnt from the Imagists, especially T.E.Hulme). We feel it in many ways: for example, the cohering internal and half rhymes, ‘drops’ and ‘stops’, ‘-thorn’s and ‘coin’, then on to ‘gone’; the fluidity and beauty of the short lines, the enjambment to evoke flight in all its senses. The poem appears slight or offhand, but is weighty in resonance; it is well worth putting this poem next to ‘Hawk’s Eye’, a longer meditation that riffs from the possibilities of Auden’s ‘hawk’s eye’ vantage point for poets. Marshall very often explores the power of transience and a consequent desire to preserve and praise in the face of this knowledge.
However, he is not just caught in some post-Yeatsian ‘man loves that which disappears’ vacuum: his poems convince one of a world out there that is being experienced in a vital and open way — political points of reference and intrusions, social structures and historical processes. Big issues (the legacies of war in ‘Case’ and ‘Wilfred Owen’s Letter’, and superbly in the title poem; the poignancy of love in time; familial inheritances; the relationship between Art and Life, as in the terrific ‘Leonardo’ sequence): all are managed most skilfully often from oblique angles (very often the composite observer-participator role celebrated in the domestic idyll, ‘Sill’: ‘Nowhere better than this: half in,/Half out…’).
There is not time enough here to celebrate or explore all the poems in sufficient detail, but this is a collection that is filled with invention, exceptional skill and rueful humour in the face of life’s home truths, well aware, as Marshall puts it, of our ‘temporary skins’ (‘Relic’).
Reviews of Gopagilla.
Andrew McCulloch, TLS November 2013.
Gopagilla reveals Roy Marshall’s keen ear and deft touch. “Zen Garden” has the molecular weight of a haiku: ” as paper sips / from the brush’s tip…so my breath will pass / over your skin / send a ripple / to your heart / set it / darting. ” But earthier voices are also audible, from the Mona Lisa whose vowelly music could easily come from those famous lips – ” the slopes of my hips and shoulders were the blue of Tuscan Skies / but the creased cream of clouds / was only for his eyes” – to the Northamptonshire dialect of “the river swimmers ” – “to sosh and turn / as riving otters, at swirl, swash, spout and lather “.
These are poems that hold words to the light until they catch it and flash with sudden truth.
Three short reviews in Sphinx.
Charlotte Gann, Frogmore Pages 80.
Roy Marshall has a delicate touch. He writes so softly of family and love, aging and loss, war and suffering. A generosity runs through the poems, yet they are distinctly crafted; nothing loose or lazy about this work. The pamphlet also relishes an often Italian palette-‘the blue of Tuscan skies’ and Nonno’s ‘pale eyes’-and some interesting curiosities: I especially enjoyed the concept of ‘Records on the Bones’ which remembers underground presses producing jazz records on X-ray sheets in 1950s USSR.
Matthew Stewart, Rogue Strands
The last few years have seen the gradual emergence of a number of exciting poets in the U.K. who dare to embrace a tradition that runs through from Larkin to Farley, that of taking the everyday by the scruff of its neck and reinventing it. In his high-quality first pamphlet, titled Gopagilla,
Roy Marshall shows that he deserves to be added to that growing list.
In technical terms, Marshall combines his powers of observation with a keen ear for the music that’s formed from the playing-off of assonance, alliteration and stresses, all to the end of illuminating narratives and scenes, as in this example from Arrival:
“…the circuitry of crickets on the air, his red wine and cigarette breath, a sickle and scythe laid aside, and rosemary scent, rising…”
As for thematic concerns, Marshall is especially strong when exploring the tricks of identity. In Rose, for instance, his son’s “Latin genes” lead to unexpectedly “mousy hair on a milky brow”. This subject is intertwined with the juxtaposed shifting perspectives of the past, present and future, which are implicitly compared and contrasted so as to cast fresh light on each other. In this respect, family is present, as in the first lines of Inheritance:
“I’ll take it now, that look you gave me, the one I saw yesterday…”
The effect of time on relationships, meanwhile, also appears,and is equally well handled in the final lines of Telepathy:
“…One night, as we spoke on the corridor payphone where even Queens had to queue, your voice let slip that you had left me, but I already knew.”
As these two poems show, Marshall is especially adept at beginnings and endings. Gopagilla is a satisfying and poetically coherent first pamphlet. It delivers a lot and promises even more. I very much look forward to reading more of Roy Marshall’s poetry in the future.
Alan Baker, LITTERBUG
‘…his writing contains emotional responses to observed events, subjective commentary on the external world and employs pathos in description of such things as family bonds and the passage of time, all of which is executed with enviable skill. What marks this poet out from many writing in a similar vein is the knack for highlighting the particulars that capture an emotion or encapsulate a story:
The circuitry of crickets on the air,
his red wine and cigarette breath,
a sickle and scythe laid aside,
and rosemary scent, rising.
The valley draped in wood-smoke webs,
my hair ruffled by his hardened hand…
Close observation, combined with beautifully-judged phrasing. Wayne Burrows, in his foreword, talks of Marshall’s ‘…compression and unforced lyricism..’ which is about right, but such attributes don’t come without hard work and a long poetic apprenticeship; both of which Marshall evidently put in before bringing out this first slim collection. This pamphlet comes from the excellent series of first collections by Leicester-based Crystal Clear Creators.
Marshall’s poems have a theme of family history and reconciliation running through them. I quote the following poem in full to show the skill and economy at work here:
Smaller wars can be forgotten between wars;
afterwards wars, the months and years of enforced peace.
A man of my Dad’s generation told me how
you could go from Nissan hut and blancoed coal
to Korea, in a week, how a lad might replace a sentry
who’d been shot that evening;
how, at nineteen, you might catch shrapnel
In your spine and wheel-chair bound
get home to find your teens at an end
and the swinging sixties just beginning.
Davide Cooke, Ink Sweat and Tears
Gopagilla is a debut pamphlet from the Leicestershire poet Roy Marshall. The third in a handsomely produced series by Crystal Clear Creators under the editorship of Jonathan Taylor, its somewhat obscure title is soon explained when the poet reveals in an epigraph that it is a word invented by his young son, ‘who was beginning to speak’: “What did you say, baby?” I asked. / “Gopagilla,” he replied, and he meant it this time.’ Adumbrating the idea of poetic creation, it also points us in the direction of one of the collection’s principle themes: the importance of family. In ‘Rose’, its opening poem, we are offered a convincing portrayal of a mother and her new-born child, but one which also gives an indication of Marshall’s mixed English and Italian ancestry. The wife here is an ‘English Rose’ and the balance of genes in the child is beautifully captured in the poem’s final lines where we learn that he is
a mirror of his mother.
Their murmurs and breath
float from open lips
his a perfect miniature
of her own sleep-slackened rose.
In ‘Dandytime’ fatherhood gives the poet an opportunity to relive his own childhood: ‘His gift to me, / the long forgotten tempo / of a boy’s life, while in ‘Ghost Walk’ we catch glimpses of a young boy playfully on the rampage who wonders ‘Who to be today: / ‘Zorro, The Flasing Blade, Robin Hood?’ This is of course all very familiar territory, but handled by Marshall with a lyrical concision that is quite his own, as is his use of Northamptonshire dialect in ‘The River Swimmers’:
Across the yard we skivers skip, but as she tries to catch us
to cuff, and we ort falter, stead we sturt for swaily water,
to lose boots and clothes and so
go in; to lift a shock of tadpoles from the shallows, to sosh and turn
as riving otters, at swirl, swash, spout and lather, become of us
one river matter.
Other memories of childhood involve his Italian relations and his discovery of the Italian landscape, as here in ‘Arrival’: ‘Brush of stubble on peach, kisses planted / by sun-dried lips, Massimo in a vest / and me just six, climbing / from a Ford Escort onto a mountain.’ In ‘Arm Wrestling with Nonno’ his Italian grandfather is evoked in terms which seem almost legendary:
My mother told me how he altered
the river’s course, how those muscles
were forged in the icy torrent where
he shifted boulders.
Other poems such as the Heaneyesque ‘Egg’ evoke that loss of innocence which is experienced when a child has to face up to the consequences of his actions: ‘The baby bird will die’ she says, / ‘its mother will leave it because of your scent.’ ‘In Passing’ is a exquisite lyric on a not dissimilar theme. It is brief enough to be quoted in its entirety:
Through high windows
he hears a choir of children,
their voices soaring:
recalls how sweet his own voice was,
how sweet he was, and cries
for all the sweetness lost.
Here Marshall’s minimalism and his pitch perfect cadences are reminiscent of and on a par with the work of Ian Hamilton and the early work of Hugo Williams. By and large Marshall does tend to concentrate on capturing fleeting lyrical moments. However, ‘Hawk’s Eyes’, a winner in the Ledbury Poetry Competition, shows that he is capable of writing at greater length. There are also poems here which show that he can cast his net beyond the narrow confines of childhood memories and family history. ‘Records on the Bones’ is a fascinating poem in which we learn that in Soviet Russia underground presses printed flexi-discs of American jazz on discarded x-ray sheets. ‘Telepathy’ recalls an early romance, while at the same time it wittily reviews the recent history of telecommunications.
For some time now, Roy Marshall’s poems have been popping up regularly in journals. Above all they are memorable for the quality of their images. In ‘No Signs Available’ ‘sparrows rip a double helix of midges.’ Viewing a dead fox in ‘Wessex Wood’, we learn that ‘death has come to steal a breath / from the mouth of spring,’ while in ‘Presence’ the memory of the poet’s father is reduced to ‘your weather-cured shoes, still two sizes too big for me.’ It is to be hoped that before too long Marshall will be able bring out a full collection of his work. It is certainly one I will be looking forward to.