In John Stammers’ first two books, Panoramic Lounge Bar (Picador, 2001; Stolen Love Behaviour, Picador, 2005) the runs of street-life images echo the work of mid Jeremy Reed at his best. In Panoramic Lounge Bar, we have ‘House on the Beach’: ‘The shadows mediated by the black slats of the venetian blind/ stripe the silk finish ceiling; / I am reminded of the sheen on the ocean….’. In Reed’s Red-Haired Android (1992) we find perhaps an earlier prototype: ‘The louvers of the venetian blinds snap shut,/ phasing out a beach scene, a turquoise sea…’ (‘Love in the Afternoon’). Reed’s love of colour (‘A Coke can’s red paint peeled to a glitter…’: ‘Things That Stay’, Red-Haired Android, 1992), and intricate sound modulation, do find echoes in Stammers’ first two books, taking the form of an obsession with light itself: ‘The mackerel sky elides lackadaisically across.’ (‘Spine’, Panoramic Lounge Bar), where image and sound, the emphasised ‘a’ and emergent ‘i’ sounds, set up a lightness of tone, a concordant sound-to-image relationship. The main difference between these last two particular pieces is in the use of the ‘i’ sound. In Reed the vowels moves towards a nervy high, like a suddenly fizzing coke can; in Stammers the high becomes a stretched out level that is modulated by the insistent ‘a’ sound. Both carry an onomatopoeic charge. Stolen Love Behaviour is indeed very much a summer book, it is lit up with images of glorious skies, with hot days, sunshine and cloud shapes.

I think Reed wins out with his attention to detail: ‘Indoors, indispensible utilities, / the glint of car-keys, a bracelet of change…’: ‘In and Out’ (Nero, 1985), or; ‘Wristwatch off, silk shirts, head slanting back/ beneath a regulated eye-dropper – /your bathroom scene, mirrors frosted with steam,/ a cologne bottle minus its stopper;..’: ‘Bathroom Scene’ (Nineties, 1990). But then : ‘…the shadows mediated by the black slats of venetian blind/ stripe the silk finish ceiling’ (: ‘House on the Beach’), must come very close behind.
They both share this fascination with colour, and the effects of light; they seek out contrasts, sometimes configured by Japanese people, as if seeking out the exotica of the everyday: ‘Two Japanese girls at Bank Station provide an instance/ of ultra-black with their hair, their acidity/ all expressed in the citrus colours of their clothes…’: ‘Two Japanese Girls at Bank Station’, (Stolen Love Behaviour, 2005) and Reed’s, ‘Your dresses spilled across a hotel bed/ were like a hectic dispersal of flame….Your Japanese lover’s black kimono…’: ‘Blue Lagoon’, (Engaging Form, 1988); ‘Mostly it’s the accidental attracts/ a Japanese girl bending to a rose…: ‘Kodak’ (ibid), and ‘The lilac ash cone on a black cheroot,/the Japanese girl flicks it on her boot,//and purses her mouth to a strawberry’: ‘Nineties Shade’ (Nineties, 1990).

So what do I imply when I say echo, and prototype, here? Is there any direct evidence Stammers knows Reed? There is a minor sexually ambivalent charge to be found in Stammers, compared with the major sexually ambivalent tone of Reed’s writing. In Stammer’s ‘The Tell’ (Panoramic Lounge Bar, 2001): the photos of a same-sex kiss are kept and valued. It could be argued that the poem charts more the time period, the sexually experimental nineteen-seventies, than any commitment to sexual ambiguity, as in Reed. The valuing lies in the life-experience contained in the encounter: the writing of oneself, in true psychological practice. Stammers is charting his points in time, the cultural high moments of time and place. Hence we have ‘Out to Lunch Poem’ whose details capture the yuppie phenomena of the nineteen-eighties boom years. The admirable poem ‘Younger’ is the market-stall poem of Stolen Love Behaviour, and the younger self/selves the main theme of the book. All we can say for certain is that there are similarities of approach, detailing, choice of subject. For Reed, as his introduction to Black Sugar makes plain, the intent is to write from within the experience, and not as the alienated outsider, the position inherited from previous generations. Stammers inherits “language-games”; he engages with the experience on different levels. Reed asserts a source of poetry within an experience, that the writing is the poetic aspect of the experience, a responsive aspect that falls within a paradigmatic role and dynamic. For Stammers the poetry inhabits the experience in a different way; the focus of the paradigm is towards the recognition of a shared dynamic. His use of language is always expressive of identifying markers: “I speak, as most of us do, in the ironic, Americanised, pastiched mode of that culture’s diction (adolescent sarcasm being the most primitive form)”: the Wolf Magazine interview. Even such a poem as XEMAE (Stolen Love Behaviour), utilizes a recognizable and accessible pattern; the terminology and referencing may be obscure, generally unknown, but the sense of the poem is easily retrievable.

There is one degree of separation between Stammers and Reed; it their appeal to the writing of Frank O’Hara and the New York School; this also expresses itself in an openness to the poetry of Baudelaire. There is also one degree between Stammers and Mark Ford. That also is O’Hara; Ford edited and selected O’Hara in 2009. But then we also have Ford’s Soft Sift book of poetry from 2003, and Stammers’ selection of Gerard Manley Hopkins (2008), from whose ‘The Wreck of the Deutschland’ this is a quotation. It is becoming to seem that there is no degree at all.

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Comments
  1. Beats By Dre says:

    I seriously like how you examine these kinds of matter.

    • I seriously like you seriously liking it; no seriously.

      I wonder when I post these up whether I’ve used enough sources, and examples, to make them work. But, hey, you make it worthwhile. Thanks for your note!

      best wishes

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