Fault Lines: Laura Taylor, Flapjack
When I was young I played a video game featuring a character with a giant mace, who whirled through the battlefield dealing blows left and right, flames spitting out of the end of the weapon, lighting up the night sky with fire and fervour.
Why do I mention this? Well, just over two years ago I sat in a bar in Chester watching Laura Taylor perform work from her first book Kaleidoscope. I was reminded of this little guy, spinning and roaring despite his size, the devastation he wrought, the pile of bodies he left behind. Laura didn’t have a mace with her that night (at least I don’t think she did, we had to leave early) but she wreaked the same havoc. Anger, pain, defiance, disappointment. All stung like a slap to the chops. At times, I felt like I had let her down personally. I felt like getting up on stage and screaming “I’m sorry … I’m so sorry.”
But there was tenderness mixed in with the ire. Humour. We sang Little Donkey at some point. Some lines were spoken with eyes locked on her partner. Some lines broke my heart.
Fast forward two and a bit years later and here is the second book. The difficult sophomore album. Her first collection Kaleidoscope was brilliant. Tender and noisy. Angry and in love with the idea of what we could achieve if we jolly well pulled our socks up and cared for one another. Everything poetry should be. Everything that night in Chester stood for, just in a book instead of on the mic.
So how does Fault Lines translate on to the page? How do we even begin to read this poetry, born in defiance and maximum volume?
Well, it definitely helps if you have seen Laura perform. If you can hear her voice, feel the rhythm of the words. I can’t help but read these as if they were being performed in front of me. The press, Flapjack, specialises in bringing spoken word and performance poetry to the page and it shows.
Take the poem ‘Hope’, a piece that helps makes up the heart-breaking segment 'Tales from the Clockface', a multi-poem elegy, a eulogy that weaves dandelions, time and hope into an incredible tapestry of loss and respect. It flows as well as anything I have read this year;
No puff and tumble downy tufts,
no conti-pads or catheters,
no blister packs or Zimmer frames,
for dandy matelot wanderers.
It’s like a lyric penned by Liz Fraser of the Glaswegian pop starlets the Cocteau Twins. It’s dreamy, it’s lit by love. It works as read poetry as well as it does live because it’s written well, with passion for both the page and the stage. It’s a given at this point that Laura’s poetry is well put together but these poems really shine. Having read both books, I can see a definite progression between the two. This is incredibly assured poetry, as powerful as it is poignant.
If you are as passionate about politics as you are about poems, there is plenty for you to love in Fault Lines. There is passion and anger for those lost during the bombing of the Manchester Areana after an Ariana Grande concert last year (‘unmartyred’), frustration for the under-represented and often ignored (‘Where the Truth Really Lies’), mocking scorn for the reviled and the revolting (‘Jacob’s Ladder’). There is a handy notes section at the back of the book that does a great job of explaining the meaning behind the words. I enjoyed the political work more by reading the poems alongside the notes. I am not particularly politically minded, but the quality of the voices on the page made me want to learn. My eyes stung. I took it all in. And what touched me the most was the clear love for people that radiates from the page. Laura doesn’t write for herself, for catharsis, for hate. She writes for others. She writes for the love of fellow man, for the love of her father, her partner, her sisters and brothers.
‘For Mohammad’ is a poem about the Syrian poet Mohammad Bashir al-Ajani, who was executed in 2016 simply for writing poetry. But these words aren’t an attempt to use this situation to fill a page;
In a hot place, a hot scribe sets fire to ideas,
fears no evil.
Leaves a phoenix to rise from rebellious ashes,
No, rather these are words of hope. Yes, we are angry that this has happened. Yes, this should never have happened. But also, here a phoenix rises. A new generation of poets, of hot scribes.
I think the best way to finish this review is to leave you with the final poem in Fault Lines – ‘The Final Haiku’. It can do justice to Laura and this wonderful book far better than I ever could;
United we stand,
with kindness and care. Without?
Divided we fall.
Stuart Buck is a poet and author living in north Wales. His debut collection of poetry, Casually Discussing the Infinite, peaked at 89 on Amazons World Poetry chart and his second book 'I Am Very Far'will be released on Selcouth Station Press in 2019. When he is not writing or reading poetry, he likes to cook, juggle and listen to music. He suffers terribly from tsundoku - the art of buying copious amounts of books that he will never read.