The lads' laureate


Clare Pollard <em>Bloodaxe Books, 64pp, £6.95</em>

ISBN 185224593X

Spanish Fly


This second collection by Clare Pollard is a vibrant despatch from the frontier of youth. Here are poems that deal with holiday sex, the unfairness of the world, love, loss, mutability and the meaning of life. In other words, the usual experiences of young adulthood. What distinguishes Pollard is not so much her age (she was born in 1978 and wrote her first book, The Heavy-Petting Zoo, while still at school), but her zest for words and the patterns they make. Her writing is energised and, if not always profound (some of the insights perhaps betray her inexperience), is both engaged and engaging. Here one senses the artist's excitement at the very act of creation, in hammering words together: arteries thicken "like moss-plush gutters"; arum lilies "seem the sun-bleached skulls of cattle". She shows considerable daring in tackling unpredictable subjects - for instance, in a love poem from Eva Braun to Hitler - that others might avoid. Hers is an authentic voice of the 18-30 generation.

Neil Rollinson, a former winner of the National Poetry Competition, is the laureate of laddom. Titles such as "The Curry House", "The Mile High Club" and "Hair of the Dog" offer something of the locker-room flavour of this collection. His poetic world is one of oral sex, football, clap clinics, beer and darts, bar-room philosophising and more oral sex. The observation, however, is pleasingly precise and direct. Watching a barmaid pull a pint:

is an exercise in eroticism,
the way she grips the pump
and pulls, with a graceful, steady
stroke, her thumb rubbing the brass

nipple on top.

There is plenty of wit, too, such as a poem in which he masquerades as a series of other, better-known poets on the performance circuit, aware that hardly anyone will notice the difference. And, now and again, one is surprised by a wry tenderness behind the jovial masculinity, as in the poem that ends the book, about fielding at deep third man for an afternoon village cricket match:

I like it here, where the meadows of Kent
lap at the boundary rope, redundant
with apples and hops. You can ponder
the subtler things: the way a summer
ripens with every innings, sycamores moving
through deeper and deeper greens.
A man could drop dead out here
in the long grass, and no one would know.

Neil Rollinson is a distinctive and amusing new voice, and this collection should not be missed.

Adam Newey is poetry editor of the New Statesman

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