Poor Tom's Revenge reviewed by D A Prince in Links, Oct 2003
Links, Bill Headdon, Bude Haven, 18 Frankfield Rise, Tunbridge Wells, Kent TN2 5LF. Email linksmag@supanete.com

Poor Tom's Revenge. Brian Fewster. 2002. Poor Tom's Press, 89a Winchester Avenue, Leicester, LE3 lAY. ISBN 0-9543371-0-7. £3.00.

The cover of this accomplished first collection is a metaphor for its contents: in a collage of torn newspaper cuttings we can make out the attention-grabbing language of headlines, advertisements, and media inflation - Profits, Marketing; Corruption; While stocks last; Road chaos looms; You pay just £799; NOW! Tabloid red screams Win! Only when you look closely, as though peering through the clamour, do you see scraps of text in a quieter, Roman typeface - the poems behind the fragmentation of the world we inhabit.

These poems redress the balance - as far, politically, as such a thing is possible. They observe the world coolly and objectively in apparently effortless rhyming. They read as though they emerged fully formed on the page, with no straining for effect, no forcing of rhyme, and not a syllable out of place. Anyone who attempts to write formal verse will understand how hard this is to achieve - just how much scratching out it takes to get even one perfect line; how one perfect stanza will be undermined by a weak rhyme, or a wrenched phrasing in the next; how the final stanza tails off. Fewster has no such faults: his ear is perfect, he can slide the money world's clichés into a rhymed quatrain (and expose their pretensions to fashion), and give us memorable ammunition against the relentless money-makers and power-hungry politicians.

Wit is rare in modem poetry. Is it because it is too difficult to write well? Because it requires too long and careful a crafting? So the wit in these twenty-six poems is welcome. Poems building on the metaphor of life as a journey open and close the collection; Time Out - four quatrains, each a single sentence - teases us with the deceptive idyll of walking along a beach, where everything 'seems'. Wish You Were Here, the final poem, begins 'Since dawn we've all been passengers together' and extends the metaphor of unreliable and uncertain railway travel. The poet writes to us '...from the metropolis of Midlife-Crisis' - a position from which he has seen enough of the world to know how its wheels grind.

The sonnet sequence, The Seven Deadly Sins, roots the sins firmly in the modern world - Hate in the persona of the xenophobic voice of the-man-in-the-street, Avarice in the language of 'wage-related overheads', Pride as the company executive - 'He's in Who's Who and understands what's what.' The detail is all: 'His Daimler sports a custom registration. / His shirts are monogrammed with his initials. / The nuts and bolts of each deliberation / are screwed in place by diligent officials.'

The title poem, Poor Tom's Revenge, takes its epigraph from the Elizabethan Tom o' Bedlam 's Song, and brings its Cardboard City beggar into the present day. It creates for the powerless protagonist wild dreams of exacting a violent revenge on the wealth-creators and politicians who have made the world in their own image.

'With my enormous shadow
I stun the politicians.
Their matchbox town I trample down
and all their wise ambitions.'

In Re-Reading Auden Fewster acknowledges his debt - 'We live like you in a low dishonest decade' - a thoughtful pastiche that shows how well he understands Auden's fluid lines and can build on Auden's technical facility. This collection, in its entirety, recalls Auden's most famous lines: 'For poetry makes nothing happen'
- true if by 'happen' we are looking for the physical pressing of a switch or turning of a key. But poetry informs the intelligence that takes these decisions, and this is where Fewster's precisely-turned lines slide into the mind, and stay there, memorably subversive of the consumerist society and those who shape it. This is mental ammunition, the time-bomb planted by a poet who, while seeing the bleakness of munch of the modern world, can write of it with wit and wry humour. Why not buy two copies? - one for yourself, and one to send to your MP?

Return to Brian Fewster's poetry site