|I have to admit that the prospect of a self-published collection by
an 'alternative' poet from Essex didn't exactly fill me with joy. However, when the book arrived at Poets'
Graves HQ, I found
it to be an attractive (glossy) book with blue graphics and
distinctive black and white type. Style over content? Well, actually
no. For the poems it contains are bang up to date. Hollingsworth
stares modern urban Britain in the eye: 'detector vans', 'lager cans'
tans' to name but a few. Furthermore,
his work is definitely not idealised,
sentimentalised or picturesque in any way - which has got to be a good thing. In fact, it is probably the most
contemporary thing I've seen since Peter Reading. (Although, to be
fair, Peter Reading also possesses an effortless mastery of poetic
form and meter which Hollingsworth doesn't - more anon).
The collections two set-piece poems are the title poem
Blueprint for Life
and UK Living. The first is a little reminiscent of something
John Cooper-Clarke's Beezley Street but grittier, more
disparate and without the jokes. Garages 'seep battery acid and poison' and the streets
are 'aglow/ with shellsuits and midriffs'. However, there is also a wry sense of humour
at work in lines such as 'at the
end of the bus route kids shoot/at corporation personnel wearing
bullet-proof clothing' and 'some little slag
from the roller hockey team' is hit 'full in the gob by a steak
and kidney pie'. The second piece , UK Living is reminiscent
of Dylan's classic Subterranean Homesick Blues - a rattling, rhyming, list-like rant on the state of the nation.
Again this is admirable stuff - uncompromising and gritty.
What is also surprising about this collection is that many (in
fact most) of the
poems are actually love poems. Amid the psychedelic grot and
ugliness of the modern world is the redeeming power of love.
In poems such as d, Yasmin, Wild Party Eyes, Milk Floats and
and Piccadilly Line Hollingsworth shows a tender side. In
Piccadilly line, for example, we have the plain but poignant 'and your
black dress/it still hangs/in my wardrobe' and in Walking at
Night the off-beat but effective 'pink loveheart crushed on the
laminate/ at flat 14a'. In the frequently ironic world of modern poetry this kind of candidness would be
shunned - which is a shame.
On the downside, Hollingsworth's poems are fairly formless.
Admittedly he does acknowledge this shortcoming in his introduction.
conventional wisdom on "form" is that you can only abandon it once
demonstrated you can use it. It would be
good to see him try more traditional poetic shapes. A Hollingsworth sonnet
or sestina would be very interesting thing indeed.
Blueprint for Life also raises interesting questions
about the publishing of poetry in general - for instance: who decides what
is good and are they right - and are we, the poetry reading public, getting what
Through a combination of personal funding, PR skills, performance
Hollingsworth has made this collection the best selling poetry title
in the UK in 2004. It is not the sort of book Faber and Faber, or for that
matter, many other poetry publishers would put out. But he has
an audience and he is putting his words inside other people's heads
which, at the end of the day, is what it 's all about.