"The Magnificent Guffaw”
chapbook by Richard Wink
review by David McLean
This, I believe, is Richard Wink's third chapbook and it is truly exceptional. The language and poetic maturity is that of someone older than Richard actually is, he's just a lad in his mid-twenties, but reminds me at least of a middle-aged Larkin facing futility with the equanimity of desperation and a hangover.
The poems are the sort of perfect slice of reality poems that feel like noticing something in a club at about two am and feeling suddenly soberer and wise, though all epiphanies are tangential and don't remain. I write this listening to Winehouse and nursing a beer hangover, and the poems suit that mood, though they are much more incisive and much more “poetic” than that observation may lead one to expect -
“Two weeks ago I went on an anti-war march.
I gave up halfway because my legs were tired,
Took the tube down to Camden and bought myself a nice bullet belt”
I know what he means, though when I went to Camden in the eighties it was to buy bootleg cassettes and things at Camden Lock Market. Bullet belts were trendy then, too.
These are poems written to give a clear perspective on what we tend to call our lives, Everyman nowadays, looking half-heartedly for drugs they might synthesize in a few decades. Waiting for the innocence of meaning to shoot a hole in the veins of night. The poems reference a lot of pop culture, though not too strictly English in the sense that they would be obscure to an American. Clint Eastwood is there as well as Suede. They concern everything from having a wank to being irritated by vacuous coke-heads, and they touch on Richard's insecurity about his dancing, his body, his character, doing so in a way that people can relate to if they aren't arrogant tossers - He might well not want arrogant tossers to relate to them.
A lot of the motivation behind this book, he tells me, and it is apparent, is to critique the sort of lives people live when some of our fellow hominids seriously consider that people like Jordan and Peter André are human beings too, and not only that, interesting human beings whose lives somehow enrich ours. (Those who read my poems may be surprised that I even know who these people are. Well i don't, I saw them on TV, expressed contempt, and was told why i was right.)
“I tell this story to the lazy
Who start life like foals
Flung from one year to the next
Without the depth of soul
Or the tools needed for fixation”
The poems are about finding balance among missed opportunities and absences, being able to negotiate life, climb over the invisible dead bodies on the pavement, and nevertheless be able to sit down to eat dinner and forget it a few minutes. Or that's what I say they are about.
The last poem is worthy of special note. It's pretty obviously about his parents, and ends in a note of restrained optimism that expresses something I think is important.
“Tears form when I watch you struggle
Long hours of nothing but dirty dishes
And factory lines
Running hand in hand
When I get the chance to pay you back in riches
And for all my thoughts I will remain hesitant forever I'm sure
But do not despair
For I am on the path and that has to be worth something I'm sure”
I think it's worth something too, though I don't know why. The anacoluthon at the start of the last stanza expresses it perfectly, the transfer then to the still hesitant sense of certainty which is confident but almost questions itself rather than affirming itself by the “I'm sure” makes this a truly exquisite poem his parents are probably very justifiably pleased by.
All in all this chapbook is very worth the four quid it costs. Buy it and support the independent press at www.erbacce-press.com. The direct link to the sales page is here.