The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - Review

Drinks with C S Lewis, Rilke and the Shondells

Abigail Parry’s dextrous poems flit from philosophy to 1960s pop

- By Ian SANSOM

I THINK WE’RE ALONE NOW by Abigail Parry

80pp, Bloodaxe, T £12 (0844 871 1514), RRP £10.99, ebook £9.95

Destined, perhaps, to be forever known as the poet who makes toys – she used to work for a circus, crafting HulaHoops, devil sticks and all sorts of other fun things – Abigail Parry’s second collection considerab­ly extends the range and depth of her much acclaimed first collection, Jinx (2018).

There are fewer high jinks – less self-conscious technical virtuosity – on display in this new book, but many more moody low lights. The tone is darker and more intimate: a poet’s second collection may have more to prove, but there’s often less to declare. The claim has already been made – now comes the proof and the proving. This is when things start to get serious.

Ish. I Think We’re Alone Now takes both its magnificen­t title and its jaunty sonnet-like title poem from the song first released by Tommy James and the Shondells in 1967, but which is doubtless more familiar to readers of this paper from the poptastic cover version by Tiffany in 1987. (Parry’s range of reference in this book, as previously, is extraordin­arily wide and, if anything, growing wider, extending from pop and rock, including Pulp and Radiohead, to CS Lewis, Rilke and Richard Rorty.)

The poem, like the song, is an absolute blast, and lays bare one of Parry’s trademark procedures. There is the casual acknowledg­ement of the poem’s constructi­on (“It’s stuck in there, the thought”) followed by a fleeting memory or, in this case, a snatch of lyric (“Running just as fast we can”), combined with frank details of some personal encounter and hints of sexual desire (“the loop where you and I play out / those stubborn gestures on repeat”). It’s an oft-repeated and winning formula by a poet who manages to combine both sleight-of-hand and heart-on-sleeve.

Written in loosely rhyming couplets in iambic pentameter, “Audio Commentary” is one of the longest poems in the book, one of several bravura performanc­es, creepily narrated by a filmmaker watching a movie whose female lead has now told the truth about the exploitati­on she faced as a young starlet: “I don’t think people realise / how young she was. Younger than her years, / as people say.” It takes, he says, “a kind of guilelessn­ess to make / a shot like that come off, a certain lack / of worldly scuff and wear.” It’s a brilliant piece of ventriloqu­ism, coolly capturing a male gaze on MeToo.

Elsewhere, complex and conflictin­g desires are not merely acknowledg­ed but celebrated, as in “Intentiona­l Complicati­ons”, which recalls the early work of Fiona Pitt-Kethley: “I know a thing or two about control / and how to lose it – / a little weed, a lot of wine, / untied my tongue enough to tell it straight – / that yes, I wanted this.” It’s a poem about knots and knotting, of various kinds.

There are a few poems that are rather more obvious and lacking in surprise. “Muse”, for example, begins, unsurprisi­ngly, “I met her once. In taffeta and ermine, / and sitting in a bar in Stepney Green.” And the way in which the poems’ titles often bleed into the first lines occasional­ly creates an effect of blurring that seems not always clear in purpose, though the fantastica­lly rhyming poem titled “The brain of the rat in stereotaxi­c space” continues “is all laid out on numbered plates”, which certainly works, with the poem laying itself out plainly on numbered plates, as it were.

But one can always quibble and haver. What makes this collection thrilling is Parry’s relentless and immense curiosity, often signalled by her breaking into asides and parenthese­s. “Only later on are we through a glass / and darkly. (An odd phrase, that – / a pane of sullen blue behind each eye. / You don’t look through a mirror.)” Memories continuall­y pop and fizz and bubble up. The drifting dream logic of “In the dream of the cold restaurant”, for example, is interrupte­d by a memory of “a carpet / not unlike this carpet here, lalling its beige / hoops and braids around the table’s feet.” That little “lalling” there is brilliant, perfect. (I had to look it up.)

For all its involution­s – “each mental irk and imp”, as Parry puts it in “Englishspe­aking learners” – and for all its allusivene­ss and its continual sidelong glances, I Think We’re Alone Now is entirely companiona­ble.

 ?? ?? j ‘I know a thing or two about control’: poet Abigail Parry
Ian Sansom is the author of September 1, 1939: A Biography of a Poem
j ‘I know a thing or two about control’: poet Abigail Parry Ian Sansom is the author of September 1, 1939: A Biography of a Poem
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