Yes Life: Dominic Berry, Flapjack Press

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Manchester-based performance poet Dominic Berry has twice been voted best spoken word artist in the Saboteur awards. The affirmative title Yes Life gives a major clue to the uplifting content of most of his latest collection. But it isn’t the whole story; there are also poems about other, less happy aspects of the world out there.

The first section, ‘Fantasy’, includes ‘The Crying Café’, where even sorrow has its place, and can be a good thing, if it is shared. Berry visualises somewhere where you can do just that. It’s a clever, crafted poem:


     Oh! Let’s go

     for some bleary-eyed, snotty-nosed

     tissue soaking.

     I am not joking.

     I would sincerely love a place

     where we could all sob safely.

     Fairly trade sorrows

     over the flattest flat white.

     No sweetener needed

     A cathartic cuppa

     with caring comrades.  


In this section there are also a couple of what Berry terms “rude” poems, about a video game character and a comic book hero, the second also a tribute to a mother’s pride in her boy. In another poem, ‘Romance For a He-Man’, he reflects that “When I was ten,/ no cartons showed men / with other men.” In ‘The Business Behind He-Man’ he denounces the commercialisation of such children’s heroes. Another poem is about wishing he could go back in time to tell his 10-year-old self that it’s “OK to be a big, girly boy”, and that “you have so much more about you / than a plastic action figure or cartoon.” (‘Playground Fantasy’).

Berry is also a children’s poet, and there’s another tribute to his mother, who bought him all the choose-your-own adventure books: “But if my life was a choose-your-own adventure / my first pages were written by my mother.” However, the message within ‘People Like Shit’ is confused and often offensive, just like the online world out there. This same sense of confusion is present in ‘Five Days Dreaming of Sleep’. It is in this poem that the refrain ‘Yes life” is insistently repeated.  

On stage Berry is an engaging and endearing performer, and we must look at his upbeat side as well. ‘My Northern Soul’ is a celebration of the “lads from school” and “the music we all share”. Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, The Temptations and Martha Reeves all get a namecheck. ‘Why These Songs Matter’ is about the saving grace of pop music, how it can heal and maintain balance:


     I am being held by the sound

     of where I feel I belong.

     I treasure my record collection.

     I am saved by my songs.


Berry has also been poet in residence at Glastonbury, and it’s the festival poems where he is perhaps at his most celebratory, from the “loved-up lunatics” of ‘Festival Few’, and the view ‘From a Glastonbury Mosh Pit’, to the inevitable, cleansing mudlarks: “You do not know my names./ In Glastonbury, we are all defined by / mud.”

One of the last poems in the collection, ‘Like Puppies’, is a celebration of a relationship, and its relaxed, easygoing nature: “We’re two silly mongrels, the stray and the wild / … we are like puppies, our games never end.”

The poet is no fan of organised games: “For back at my school, all sports would mean / me being picked last for every team.” That’s why he loves the ‘everyone a winner’ democracy of frisbee, and a childhood friend called Nick:


     When I fumble the frisbee,

     he is there to assist me.

     Though others catch better,

     he will never dismiss me.


That frisbee poem, like the whole collection, covers a lot of ground. Yes Life distils Dominic Berry’s intelligent exuberance and enthusiasm. I saw him perform recently, and this book provides a rewarding souvenir of that enjoyable occasion.


Dominic Berry, Yes Life, Flapjack Press, £9.50




◄ Call to keep £20,000 Coleridge anti-slavery poem in UK

Ambit ends publication after 64 years with issue 249 ►


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