Saturday 10 October 2015

Review by Jonathan Taylor of "Devil's Bit" by Richard Byrt

In Richard Byrt's poem, "How to Behave in a Museum," the narrator is told by a museum official that "it's time / [he] ... grew up." In response, the narrator asks "'Why? / I'm only 75.'" This is after setting off the fire extinguisher, skateboarding down the balustrade, and staging a miniature food fight in the canteen. In many of the original and memorable poems in Byrt's first pamphlet-length collection, Devil's Bit (De Montfort Books, 2015), the narrators - the multifarious voices assumed by the author - are similarly mischievous, ironic, mocking, disruptive, anarchic, anti-authoritarian, mock-ironic-authoritarian, and so on. This is a mischievous, naughty collection of poems, where First World War soldiers nip off together for stolen liaisons, bored partners get drunk in the interval during performances of Hamlet, ex-tax inspectors become inept graffiti artists. 

In a general sense, the collection moves from childhood attempts to bow to authority, in poems such as "Learning the Hard Way," to adolescent and adult moments of sexual rebellion, in poems such as "Others," and finally to "mature" (very much in inverted commas here, thank goodness), open forms of rebellion, in poems such as "A Small Price for Freedom," as well as poems in which the narrators assume mock-authoritarian voices. Indeed, this is one of Byrt's real strengths as a writer: the ability not merely to capture moments and voices of rebellions, but also to mimic voices of authority, and then undermine them from within:

As a Government
we have solved
the Problem
of The Elderly,

reduced the burden 
and staffing bills
by introducing robots
who can hydrate
The Elderly, ...

... thus providing 

holistic care 
of The Elderly,
closely supervised

by a robot matron
at a central panel
who operates

All the Controls. 

About the reviewer Jonathan Taylor's books include the novels Melissa (Salt, 2015), and Entertaining Strangers (Salt, 2012), and the poetry collection Musicolepsy (Shoestring, 2013). His website is 

1 comment:

  1. I read Richard's book of poems in one sitting. And then began again. I have done that only once in my life. Reading a slim Thom Gunn volume from FF. Richard in the latter day Crabbe. Astonishingly good and wonderfully accessible. I love the sonnet about conkers. Lets have more and more and get him on Poetry Please. Nick Ashton-Jones