Kevin Saving on

Mike Wilson and
Martin Rowson

Desperanto
by Mike Wilson
Smokestack Books, 2009

The Limerickiad -
Vol. 1: Gilgamesh to Shakespeare
by Martin Rowson
Smokestack Books, 2011

MW
MR

Desperanto could, perhaps, only have been written by a Briton, left-of-centre, of a certain age -someone brought up at a time when cynical capitalism had not yet (quite) become the only show in town.
 
Mike Wilson's debut collection is permeated by a wry, almost Larkinesque sensibility (that, paradoxically right-wing, poet is name-checked on several occasions) but, advantageously, it tackles the 'Sainsbury socialism' that Larkin never lived to see. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown left a whole generation 'orphaned' in a way which Thatcher somehow never managed.
 
  We moved on. Years, millennia, trod past.
  The single mums got shacked up once again
  (identical but different dodgy men);
  the bijoux flats got rented out at last;
  the post office got closed... And more newcomers,
  new waves of Slovak wage-slaves, Polish plumbers
  and Chinese cockle-pickers in a fast-
  incoming tide of willing workers, then
  found harbour in our homes... which is when
  the Left began to feel a tad mis-cast,
  sad soldiers marching to last decade's drummers
 
  (from 'Fresh Fields Revisited')
 
Wilson depicts a species of 'burnt-out idealism' very well but is capable of hitting other notes at need. Desperanto's title-poem (a villanelle) invokes its own:
 
  Sad poetry. It's written everywhere,
  by broken heart's in search of self-expression:
  the universal language of despair.
 
Wilson enjoys word-play and parody:
 
  They fuck you up, your girl and boy.
  They may not mean to, but they do.
  They ought to be your pride and joy
  but they will disillusion you.
 
  For they've been disappointed by
  their parents - you - who, they suspect
  are fallible. You can't deny
  that sense of dread, when you detect
 
  they see through you. Familiar eyes
  are mirrored there. You wonder whence,
  from whom, they learned that cheap disguise:
  rebellious indifference.
 
  (from 'This Be Averse').
 
Wilson can 'do' both 'funny' and 'poignant'. He employs a good line in self-deprecation. His best work combines strong observational skills and technical adroitness. He is obviously 'a man of parts', having recently toured the U.K. with the Curt Collective (performing live sound-tracks to silent film classics). Previously, he presented a one-man show based on the songs of Jake Thackray. Smokestack Books are to be congratulated upon their acquisition of Mike Wilson's name among their growing 'list' of writers.

The Limerickiad
 
First there was The Iliad. In responce, Alexander Pope was moved to write his Dunciad. Later, the Pole, Stanislaw Lem, wrote his science fictional masterpiece, The Cyberiad (about computers). It seems inevitable therefore that someone would eventually come up with a 'Limerickiad', as Martin Rowson has done here.
 
Each week - for the past five years - this award-winning cartoonist has been contributing an example of the five-line verse-form to the Independent on Sunday, taking for his inspiration the entirety of recorded literature. The present publication is merely volume one: You Have Been Warned!
 
Though Edward Lear is usually 'credited' as the father of the limerick, there are examples from the 1820s which pre-date his by some years. The categorisation seems to have arisen by virtue of the repetition of a drunken chorus: 'will you come up to Limerick?'. Lear's verses tend to repeat line one as line five - which sounds 'anti-climactic' to modern ears. It's time now for some examples from the book.
 
  There once was a fellow called DANTE
  Who drank too much Asti Spumante
  (Or it may have been Pernod)
  And went to INFERNO
  Though most folk prefer Alicante.
 
and
 
  THOMAS WYATT wrote sonnets all week
  And gave Anne Boleyn's bottom a tweak!
  He got sent to The Tower
  And within one brief hour
  They fled him that once did him seek.
 
and
 
  But ABELARD now! He did blaze a
  Trail that would frankly amaze a
  Chap, though 'tis stated
  Poor Pete got castrated
  Possibly by Occam's Razor...
 
Rowson's narrative is surprisingly proportionate - in that greater textual space is devoted to the works of Dante, Chaucer and Shakespeare (the latter has each of his plays 'dissected', often with cruel accuracy). The author wears his learning unfussily and (as always) the illustrations are a delight. Though I can't help thinking that 372 limericks is altogether-too-much-of-a-good-thing, after a while their rhythms start to insinuate themselves into your brain - in some cases to unwholesome effect:
 
  The classics seem too recondite?
  Then Rowson's for you: Lit-Hist-lite;
  His range is precocious,
  The puns are atrocious
  But fun -when he gets them just right.
 
Rowson approaches his self-appointed task with sauciness and gusto.

Kevin Saving © 2011