Punching Cork Stoppers: Neil Leadbeater, Original Plus
The poems in this chapbook by Neil Leadbeater represent a love letter to Lisbon, to Portugal, and to its cork groves in particular. In the capital the poet hears fado music, a form of song characterised by mournful tunes and lyrics, in the old streets: “This notion of fate - / the passion of the heart which wins hands down / over logic held in the head …”
He devotes three poems to different Lisbon funiculars, and another to the city‘s spectacular ‘Aqueduto das Aguas Livres’, “those high-pointed Gothic arches / striding over the edge; / that brass-led fanfare of uniform pillars.”
There are nods to Tennyson, Byron and Southey as he traces their footsteps, and a number of mentions of a companion in these poems, which give them an added resonance: “Your high heels keep up their rhythm / on the parquet floor / word perfect.” (‘Buying Shoes in Lisbon’).
Leadbeater marvels at natural wonders, too, such as the ‘Sacrifice of the Cork Oak’ (“To have your cells pared off …”), ‘The Essence of Lemons’, and ‘Oranges Coming of Age’: “A fire-burst of summer segments / squeezed out and citrus-cool”.
He and his companion lived among the cork groves for a summer:
The only sound we heard all day
was the tight-lipped talk of the district logger
and the ragged tear of plank panels
prised like tape from the trees
Leadbeater is acutely aware of the land’s thirst. In Oporto he recalls “how long the time has been / since the last rain was heard”; he sees “low-lying farms pitched like loaves / in the burn and shine of hills” (‘A Sea of Wheat near Moura’); and the final, short poem sighs at “the hard-edged glare” (‘Natural Light’). In more than one poem there is a longing for showers.
He pays his literary dues, examines ‘Southey’s Riverscape’ (“the city he found agreeable / a polite way of saying it was filthy”); tracks down Byron (“In Sintra … he ate oranges, / luscious globes of refreshment / that helped him stand the heat”); and sympathises with a hot and bothered Tennyson in Lisbon (“Its white heat of inspiration / was a sun-shimmer out of / reach.”).
This chapbook is one of a series produced by Original Plus of Bridgend in south Wales. One regret might be that the utilitarian nature of this publication – which is certainly reflected in the bargain price, it is fair to say - does not give these luxuriant, brightly-lit poems quite the setting they deserve. For Neil Leadbeater’s thoughts on Portugal are far more than picture-postcard snapshots; they are a lyrical guide to the heart of a country.