EILEEN TABIOS Engages
The Loveliest Vein of our Lives by Neil Leadbeater
(Poetry Space Ltd., Bristol, U.K., 2014)
Neil Leadbeater’s The Loveliest Vein of our Lives is aptly titled—it offers the sense of having been a lovingly-created book. It’s an impression facilitated by how many of the poems are also ars poetica treatises, like “The Jury” or this:
How to Pick a Watermelon
Look it over in your mind’s eye. Ask yourself questions about its symmetry. Is every part of it in equal proportion? Is the flesh free from cuts or dents? Is the rind unblemished? Does it come anywhere near the mark of physical perfection?
Lift it up to the stars. Is it heavy for its size? Is most of its weight to your satisfaction when held in the hand?
Turn it over in your head. Is it creamy-yellow from all those days when it basked in the desert sun?
Poems are a bit like this. You have to look at them from all angles, weigh them up until they are word perfect, sound exact, and more than the sum of their parts.
Even poems that seem to be about something else end up commenting on the art of poetry. For instance, “Moxoto Goats” or “Night Class”. And the poem “Swimming Solo in the Indoor Pool”—because of its last line—indicates something about how poems might be made, specifically as regards poems’ first lines: “that sudden splash on entry.”
But the collection’s loving creation also bespeaks the poet’s clear love for Brazil. His poems are vivid and clear. But I wouldn’t have been taken by the poems if they’d been of the tourist sensibility. One of Leadbeater’s strengths is how he inhabits deeply the stuff from which he makes poetry. So, regarding Brazil, there’s a poem referencing ye olde “girl from Ipanema” but there’s also this:
Poem for the Day of the Office Boy
(Rio de Janeiro, 19 March)
Even the junior has his day. Mornings will
find him sorting mail, punching holes
for the placement of sheets
on to the Master File.
After lunch he slips off the lead
to wander the streets like a stray—
is the envy of all who are trapped indoors
unable to get away.
Today he hears the sound of the street;
the falling weight of a pile driver
or a large hammer driving bolts;
the language of commerce, of gesture, of football;
delivering whatever he is required to deliver
riding the lifts to the gods.
There’s a fulsomeness to his approach that elevates his poems beyond that by a visitor:
This one is for Stan Getz.
It was his signature in the sixties
translated in parenthesis as
“slightly out of tune.”
It tests the water of the blue pool
those lines of latitude
thrashed out to left and right
face down in double quick time:
the jazz fusion of the crawl.
It helps that Leadbeater doesn’t just love his subject—he views it with much affection. Indeed, he says of Brazil’s language:
Out of the Romans, the settlers and merchants,
the storehouse of words from the age of discoveries,
came the language of affection, of interaction, of gesture,
the last flower of Latium,
wild and beautiful—
the story of Portuguese
—from “On the Opening of the Museu da Lingua Portuguesa, Sao Paulo”
In addition to the charm of the poems, there’s even charm—albeit slightly off kilter a la desafinado—in his useful “Notes” section. Just consider—and smile—over the first two notes:
Cacao is a major cash crop in the moist tropics. In 1989, the crop in Ilheus was completely devastated by Vassoura de Bruxa, a fungal disease which is also known as witches’ broom disease.
In Brazilian mythology, the figure of Curupira is prominent in forest settings. He is depicted as a male genie with red hair. He is said to protect animals and trees and his feet are turned backwards so that his footprints confuse hunters and lumberjacks.
And the charm, like other effects of his poems, come off as effortless—like the way he suggests in “At Coccinelle’s: Searching for the Perfect Line”: Sometimes, when you go out / in search of a poem / it’s best not to look for it too intently / because its not something / that can be served up neat / with a sense of expectation.” So many of his poems manifest this suggestion, such that the reader can’t help but be grateful for the experience of reading poems that leave you utterly enchanted.
Eileen Tabios recently released an experimental auto-biography, AGAINST MISANTHROPY: A LIFE IN POETRY, as well as her first poetry collection published in 2015, I FORGOT LIGHT BURNS. Forthcoming later this year is INVENT(ST)ORY which is her second “Selected Poems" project; while her first Selected THE THORN ROSARY was focused on the prose poem form, INVEN(ST)ORY will focus on the list or catalog poem form. She does not let her books be reviewed by Galatea Resurrects because she's its editor (the exception would be books that focus on other poets as well). She is pleased, though, to point you elsewhere to recent reviews of her work. Her poetry collection, SUN STIGMATA (Sculpture Poems), received a review by Joey Madia in New Mystics Review and Zvi Sesling in Boston Area Small Press and Poetry Scene. More information at http://eileenrtabios.com