Blueprint for Life by Ray Hollingsworth

Published by Kiss Production Ltd 7.95

Review by Cameron Self

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' and 'ultraviolet 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 like 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 Fast Food 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. However,  the conventional wisdom on "form" is that you can only abandon it once you've 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 we want/need?? Through a combination of personal funding, PR skills, performance and persistence, 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 obviously found 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.


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