Published by Bloodaxe
Staying recently in a strange house after giving a reading, I chanced, in my room, upon an ancient copy of Eric Fromm’s The Art of Loving. Fromm defines love, unfashionably, as a decision rather than a form of barter where marketable assets are traded in a sexual exchange for the best available model. For Fromm, love is largely a choice, not an overwhelming obsession projected onto the love object. Fromm’s humanistic image of constancy seems now almost quaintly old fashioned, as if it belonged to an age before the ‘invention’ of what Tom Woolfe defined as the ‘me’ generation with its sense of alienation and belief in the divine right to instant gratification and happiness. Maybe according to this thesis Roddy Lumsden’s new book from Bloodaxe should be called The Book of Obsession, but one presumes that the title The Book of Love is knowingly ‘post-modern’ and therefore self-mockingly ironic. Love these days usually comes dressed in inverted commas. Lumsden very effectively creates an edgy urban world of male fantasists for whom love is often closer to solipsistic obsession than to anything Fromm might have recognised. Incident in a Filing Cupboard, the first poem in the collection, sets the tone. This is office love, where every look, even a meeting in the filing cupboard, is interpreted as a sign, “as if an intimacy had just occurred between us.” Lumsden’s characters are outsiders, ‘wannabees’, slight misfits with an often grandiose sense of their own sexual prowess. There is the boastful encounter with An Older Woman in “Mid-1990s, Scotland, dead of winter/And more than old enough to be my mother” in “A Brookes & Simmons dress … bra and knickers/ … in contrasting colours”. We are also party to the fantasies of Love’s Young Dream, an implied loser, who according to “the guys at work” “doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell”, despite the excess of cologne and hair gelled “up in an Elvis lick.” There are Tricks for the Barmaidto get her into bed, “It’s only a matter of time before she sleeps with me” and unrealised fantasies of Troilism – where despite obsessive day-dreaming the poet decides – “a small moon … above a harvest field” is just as “ … satisfying, in its own way, enough.”
Lumsden is at his best when, with verve and panache, he plunders his idiosyncratic word-hoard, which borrows not only from his vernacular Scottish but also from the language of games, slang, art and street culture. This he does with economy and style in the pair of poems Glasgow and Edinburgh that in tone recall something of the opening of Larkin’s Whitsun Weddings.
Yet despite the air of bravura laddishness and quick-witted banter Roddy Lumsden reveals himself, in fact, as a bit of modern-day romantic in Against Naturism.
He has an astute ear for the cadences of contemporary speech. Like the bloke in the pub, who fancies himself as a bit of a raconteur, he wants to keep us amused with a good tale well told. One poem, though, points to a deeper darker side. East of Eden is a shocking poem about a mugging. But it is not the mugging that shocks. The violent youth sorts through the contents of his female victim’s handbag rejecting “the greasy snibs of lipstick”, “the sixty quid in tenners”. He then dumps it and sets it alight leaving only a postcard with “Just two words. The first is BLAME./(I see her now.) The second is my mother’s name.” Despite the literary mask, the anger seems raw, felt, experienced.
Content and Texts © Sue Hubbard 2011
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