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A Lost Expression, By Luke Kennard. Salt Publishing, £12.99

 

In A Lost Expression, Luke Kennard's fourth collection of poetry, estranged protagonists report from a culture that feels at once decrepit and accelerating. "The pram cracks over branches, fag butts, glass;/ my son cries like he sees my vilest thoughts," says the narrator of "Will Write Properly Soon". Disconnection finds its form in the footnote that fractures "Parabola", asking: "How apparent is his desperation to be liked?"

Kennard's irreverence has earned him comparisons to Charles Baudelaire, but the American postmodernist John Ashbery's influence is detectable in "Lily Pads": "Time lapse photography reveals/ your formation like drops of paint or tears/ on newspaper or a shirt sleeve/ although, say, in tactile negative,/ wet /dry reversed./ As the words are to the page,/ inevitable, hard to explain." Kennard's verse, like Ashbery's, articulates the fluid half-sense that is part of how we think.

The morality underpinning these poems is powerfully communicated. "On watery Saturday nights/ prophets can be recognised by their hunted expression," we learn in "Dolphin with a Time Machine", before the warning: "it's taking place wherever the words are not / backed with silence." The prose poem "Wolf Shibboleth" contains comic observations ("Anyone can tell you are posh because you have a cheap television") about class and education. The wolf has appeared in previous books but the poet has outgrown his pompous nemesis by the time love is compared to art in "Leather-Bound Road": "It's more the way the right wine brings out the right light/ and the scene reflected in your eye places me/ front and centre, peering in, trying to describe the colour."

This collection includes Kennard's most personal and political poems. It closes with "Jeremiah", a monologue from a businessman who consistently provides thrilling answers to a question a student poses: "What are poets for?" Kennard admires the American writer Ben Lerner who recently published a novel in which his narrator claims: "Poems aren't about anything". Kennard might concur but, with urgency and generosity, A Lost Expression addresses the world we live in now.

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