Having dazzled the poetry world with her 2009 debut collection, Furniture (shortlisted for both the Forward Prize for Best First Collection and the Seamus Heaney Centre Poetry Prize), Lorraine Mariner has returned with an array of diverse and insightful poems in There Will Be No More Nonsense. No reader will finish this collection of often-witty lines unaware that this volume is so much more than mere “nonsense”.
Whilst Mariner has retained her recognisable voice, this second collection feels somewhat broader in scope and style. The poet jumps from seemingly personal and intimate memories to more abstract and figurative ideas, simultaneously scattering quirky insights on technology and social media. An example of this can be found in “Monochrome”:
Teenagers sending messages from their smartphones
must think that in the dark days of landlines
we had nothing to say.
Not only does her style vary throughout, but these poems differ considerably in length, the shortest being a mere two lines long (“And if I cried”). This sets the pace for a captivating read, further strengthened by Mariner’s inclusion of a sequence of short prose, linked thematically as in “The Deadly Sins and the Holy Virtues”.
These short confessional snippets appear to be personal recollections, which are both wonderfully funny and genuinely intimate. The fact that they are hidden throughout the collection makes them all the more effective, their sudden appearance imitating the unexpected and fleeting nature of the subject-matter.
A personal tone predominates in many of these poems, including those which are clearly not autobiographical. In “Toll booth attendant” Mariner is able to convincingly fill the shoes of an eponymous attendant, elevating a job rarely thought about through her attention to detail, and her remarkable ability to make quotidian concerns worthy of poetry:
but the snatches
you would hear
as the windows
and back up –
a hit played
on Radio 2
In “Domestic interior”, paradoxically, Mariner transforms abstract nouns such as “Worry” and “Love” into common household objects. Not only does she manage to defamiliarise a clothes rack, an iron and more, but she also forces the reader to consider what those workaday abstract nouns actually mean.
Overall Mariner’s style is very accessible, her conversational rhythm and lack of rhyme is likely to convey a sense of the poet sharing a pot of tea and a chat with the reader. This is not to say that her poetry lacks depth, nor should it imply that she does not use poetic technique. On the contrary, Mariner has a subtle, natural way with words and is very aware of the whitespace on the page. Consider the short poem “A monolith for Lot’s Wife” where the shape of the single stanza effectively reflects the salt pillar. Apart from this specific Old Testament reference, the majority of these poems are reflective of our contemporary society. Social media is often mentioned, and Mariner even dedicates one of her poems to Twitter by limiting herself to the one hundred and forty characters.
The collection may be lacking an overt, unifying theme, but this complements the written style, and echoes the rapid movement of thoughts. Arguably, the diversity and personal tone of these poems may be read as the poet’s own status updates. As the Internet looms ever larger in our rituals, and also considering Mariner’s interest in turning daily affairs into poetry, this seems entirely fitting.