The McLean Review

Ben Stainton
The Jealousies
BeWrite Press

Ben Stainton's new collection The Jealousies published by BeWrite Press is a colelction of restrained and evocative poems that cover everything from childhood reminiscence to nostalgia for a past that never was, from the Venerable Bede and forwards through history.

It's an alien world to me, England and Anglicity, but Stainton manages to make it acceptable and much less offensive than it is. There are echoes of Eliot, Pound, and other dead poets here, and their heritage is well continued.

We fought in a vacuum,
like Hamlet & Ophelia,
juveniles made godlike.

You were a totem stick,
several blurred heads
skewered like lamb-meat

& the salacious night
closed over your mouths.
We smoked liver, & sang.

They were the abusive days,
grinding our love to dust.
I am a longing, for your rust

to mend me, mend me,

mend me.


Parts are touched by a tinge of threatening evil, the blackness and moral void behind the everydayness

Uncertainty is the only guarantee.
I shoot hopeful arrows into space.
Am I the frozen January fields
that Gainsborough painted, in love?
Or the crushed ice in a sugared glass?
Our feral search will last forever.
We scrape the leathery sea for clues
& urge the booming clocks to stop, or run
& never read the news. All calamities.

Mr Slaughter, buried in the yard
of the red house. Mrs Slaughter pruning.
Perhaps I am the flourishing lilacs?

(Sea of Stones)

The best parts where his voice comes most to itself are the passages that display fresh and vigorous use of words to illumine moments of life. These poems are of life and drawn from life, and as the book progresses the voice becomes more enriched and deeper, more fluent as it drops the somewhat stilted mannerisms in some of the earlier poems. It is a book one can read to watch this development in the three sections that precede Journal, the fourth and best part and culmination of the book.

This book is definitely unlike most of the things I have reviewed, which are more inclined to be underground or experimental, but it is a very good specimen of a sort of poetry worth preserving, one with an explicit sense of being situated in a tradition. It is poetry that depicts life as she is lived, rather than questions of metaphysics or political engagement, and there's a place for that too, in fact, it is part of the historical tradition of great poetry. Stainton's development will be of interest. This book holds promise of a new voice in the canon of UK writers.

- David McLean

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