Confucius said that “To love a thing means wanting it to live.” This fearless collection of poetry by Julian Stannard provides a living, breathing body of uncompromising work that grows off the page and flowers into the large and small places of life, touching and resonating as it branches outwards, and then out some more. Stannard has an evident ability to illustrate life around him with a love of narrative, poetry, word and image throughout this confident, cosmopolitan exploration of humanness. His poems sweep in and around European cities, dealing with subjects such as religion, food, place, people, friends, his mother, lovers, and the loss of a dead brother. Stannard rummages in bars, barbers shops, chapels, streets, the sea, the beach, and a train station. At times humorous, even wry, and at times dark, these highly descriptive, often tender and intelligent poems deal with alternative cultures, offbeat customs, unique perspectives, and with Stannard’s own personal relationships. He draws meaning and purpose out of all scenarios, and each situation seems not just probable, but wholly convincing.
Stannard’s free verse style and varieties of tone and texture all work perfectly to make these contemporary poems pure, fresh and accessible. They appear conversational, intimate, and at times, confessional. Stannard names people in his poems, evoking a greater authenticity. Take, for example, “Oh”: In this lean poem, Stannard confides in his reader, offering precise and deeply personal information about very specific people. The reader feels that the people in the poem are real people that Stannard must know very well. The same can be said when Stannard writes about a place; the reader has no doubt about the intimate relationship between place and poet.
The poems in this volume offer windows into seldom seen worlds; windows that open other windows, because behind every scene, it is possible to imagine another, possible to realise that there are several other things happening further in. Although sometimes bewildering, and resulting in a choppy effect, Stannard’s employment of Italian and French language in statements and place-names, predominantly in the first half of the volume, provides colour and authenticity to the situations he depicts.
There is a surreal quality to some of Stannard’s poems. For example, in “And Then I Released it into the Wilderness”, various sizes of animals arrive in the post, ranging from hamster to horse. It is easy to get caught up in this poem and believe every single word, for Stannard is an expert at normalising the absurd. Similarly, in “The Bicycle”, he convinces his reader to believe that the bicycle and the shark are almost one and the same. Stannard observes, comments on, and makes his own, the ridiculous, the beautiful, the ironic and the poignant. One can imagine him travelling through his life with a magnifying glass, a telescope, and a small spade; often combining the findings of all three into one whole picture.
What makes this volume of work such an achievement is Stannard’s ambitious and eclectic approach, his keen observation, his frankness, and his ability to take his readers anywhere and be convincing!
Keren A Macpherson