Trees on Bear Road, Brendan Cleary

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Trees on Bear Road, Brendan Cleary, Sunk Island Publishing, £3.50 Reviewed by Jane Holland.

Still chipping away at the streetwise wordface, long-established poet Brendan Cleary excels at the pub anecdotal:

this guy at the urinal

turned round and stared

vomited white bile

the insides of his stomach

then crashed on the tiles

& died there & then

right in front of him

Master of the ampersand too, Cleary has not moved too far beyond his earliest beginnings in poetry, perhaps because he has perfected his art. In this latest pamphlet from Sunk Island Publishing, Trees on Bear Road, one thing leads to another, as in the oldest shaggy dog stories, though often covertly - this poetry, after all, is about the outward display versus the inner compulsion, and the work benefits from that inherent tension. So, standing ‘transfixed/at Victoria station’, rather than doing something proactive like boarding a train or buying a ticket, the poet as narrator can’t help but remember ‘the shape of your neck/your blue tattoo’ instead.

Rarely longer than ten or fifteen lines, these brief snippets of life entertain with a studied, off-hand candour, as here in ‘Poem for R’:

it was a sunny afternoon

probably a Tuesday

when I tied you up

because you wanted me to.

As you might have guessed, an ‘alcohol haze’ figures in these poems alongside the odd ‘one-skinner’ and, of course, ex-girlfriends who wear wonderbras and go for pizza after kinky sex. But the best poems here, the Cleary topnotes, emerge when internal monologue takes centre stage (as opposed to action, that is - c.f. the urinal scene with which I opened this review).

An example of that is ‘Brightonia’ where the poet decides after all ‘not to pursue’ a girl he fancies after she compares him - in all innocence - to her father (‘he was bearing up better than I was’). The relaxed, student-like, opening lines (‘on your rooftop/smokin’ weed’) simply do not prepare us for the hilarity of the poet’s wry, oblique acknowledgement that he is not longer, shall we say, a young man.

This a short pamphlet - only fourteen poems - but is typical of Brendan Cleary’s work, being witty, laid-back, and riddled with

loads of other stuff

it won’t do me

any good at all

to mention.

He’s not a poet who’s particularly big on self-reinvention, but at least you always know what you’re getting into when you open a Cleary collection.

Jane Holland is the editor of Horizon Review

Trees On Bear Road can be had for £3.50 (inclusive of postage in the UK), cheques payable to M A Blackburn, c/o 7 Lee Avenue, Heighington, Lincoln, LN4 1RD. Anyone wishing to order online can do so via PayPal using as the payment address. Or via Amazon Marketplace.

Sunk Island Publishing
Founded by poet Michael Blackburn in 1988 Sunk Island initially published Sunk Island Review, a biannual paperback of new fiction, poetry, translations and reviews. It expanded into fiction, including Hallowed Ground by Robert Edric, which made the longlist of the Booker Prize in 1993, and Radio Activity by John Murray, which received rave reviews in the Guardian and elsewhere. Sunk Island's poetry imprint issued early titles by Brendan Cleary, Matthew Caley, Amanda Dalton, Pat Winslow and many others. After a break of a decade Sunk Island is back, producing limited edition pamphlets and the occasional ebook.

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