On the first page of Several Deer, the debut collection from the Northern Irish poet Adam Crothers, appears an epigraph from As You Like It: ‘Sing it. ‘Tis no matter how it be in tune, so it make noise enough.’ ‘Noise enough’ is the rallying cry that leads you through this collection, full to the brim with vibrant, urgent, noisy poetry.
Crothers has a deft ability to be both virtuosic and self-effacing, demonstrating control and poetic facility embedded in structure but always underscored by playful wit and arch silliness. Take the lines from ‘Badge’:
I led them out of Egypt. I said my name was Lesion.
But I meant to say Eejit. But they told me they were freezing.
Their pleas were somewhat pleasing. Tell me, mama, how it’s kosher
that my blazer’s basal buttonhole’s a raw red rasher…
This is poetry at its most playful, sonorous and broad but also technical and intricately textured. It is poetry that compels itself forward with a terrific energy borne out of appearing as though it might at any moment fall flat on its face.
The collection, which runs to nearly seventy poems divided into three sections, lurches between subjects: poems entitled ‘Pussy Rot’, ‘Zombie’ and ‘Animal Testing. Testing…’ but also ‘Cradle Song’, ‘The Morning’, and ‘Dawn’. There is, however, an internal logic that flourishes into dissonance, as when the noisy, Blues-inflected poems of the first section yield to the second, whose opening poem begins quietly:
Instead of the lily consider the Crocus
This second section holds onto quiet openness, and for this reason contains the collection’s most successful verse. ‘The Art of the Poetic Line’ is Crothers at his best: expansive, wrought, and playful. It begins with six enjambed lines of ecstatically overfull observation whose meaning circles around itself only to be played by the expressive regression of the final lines:
The crows, I mean:
there was something in their refusal, despite all else, to be end-
stopped that made their a state of impossible aspiration,
the best I can hope for being the justified placing
of my hand near yours, something upon which a little must depend.
The verse zooms in on that particular ‘hand near yours’, enclosed by that rhyme of ‘end’ and ‘depend’, but it is both the words and their signifiers that are at stake, allowing for this verse to be about the act of making a poetic line– playful and metatextual– but also, crucially, about the real world and its consequences.
What is really exceptional about Crothers is that all his ingenuous rhyme (‘Neil Young’ and ‘knelling’, ‘Birds sing’ and ‘worsening’) and metrical vigour does not merely demonstrate his ability but functions rather in service of his verse. At its best, this transcends the contemporary poetics of the esoteric and allows for a striking humility to be spotted under the boisterous, entertaining, noise.
By Nathan Ellis
Several Deer by Adam Crothers, Carcanet, £8.99