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Marcus Slease reviews Bobby Parker

Bobby Parker – Blue Movie 

(Nine Arches Press, Rugby, 2014. Paperback, 63pp, £8.99. ISBN 9780992758974)

Authenticity is a loaded word. What does it mean? Being sincere? We live in a world of intense self-branding and marketing and maybe a lot of us crave authenticity more than ever. It seems like authenticity is something always in process. Maybe you know authenticity when you feel it/hear it/experience it? For me, Bobby Parker’s collection of poems, Blue Movie, makes us feel authenticity beautifully. I feel it (a raw and brutal reality with starling imagination) because the speakers in the poems are open to various states of reality and emotions. Like a lot of great art, suffering is altered through the power of the imagination. There is a careful attention to both craft and rawness. A seemingly effortless effort. Of course, it often takes a lot of skill and artfulness to render complex ideas and emotions in accessible language and to make it seem effortless. Parker does this exceptionally well. It is one of many things I love about his poetry. 
Lots of poems in Blue Movie use both realism (the banal everyday life on this small and sometimes suffocating island) and the freedom of the imagination. One of my favourite poems in the collection, “Heartbreak Delirium”, starts with a banal everyday detail: “night traffic / footsteps through puddles / cars that never stop.” But then we are taken into dreams. In the first dream, the speaker is told “sex is a lake full of lost hooks / and headless toys.” The second dream has a voice of “punk rock / in a valley of pianos.” The delirium in the title suggests a severe form of disconnection of the mind and body. The speaker’s heartbeat sounds like “someone throwing tins / of baked beans at an empty wardrobe.” The mind/spirit is padlocked inside the body but wants to swing open like a gate. The song it sings is a howl “against the padlock.” This is a poem of suffering and a desire for freedom but there is no self pity. It is an expansive poem that is generous towards the reader in its use of imagination. It moves both inside and outside. And, at least for me, I am more open, receptive, and empathetic for having experienced it. 
Another favourite poem in the collection is “Car Wash.” The poem shifts and swerve and builds momentum. Like all of Parker’s poems, even when the emotions are heightened, the language is never over-stated. The first stanza begins with a longing for the voice of the speaker’s daughter “without the background / hiss of hoses.” As the speaker’s marriage “disassembles” and they look for glue, “hooded figures count money / by the car wash gates.” The presence of the hooded figures are ominous. And the next image adds to the tension as we are told that water, a symbol of renewal and hope, is “spraying through sunbeams / hopeless sunbeams.” The car wash becomes a dark place and the speaker prays to “evil magicians” and turns his hands into guns to “shoot the blue rags they leave / to dry overnight / along the rusted spikes.” The speaker then swerves into a list of items using the romantic apostrophic O “O Lucifer! / O Crowley!! / O Daily Mail!!!” with each item increasing in significance with an added exclamation mark. The effect of this, on me, was jarring in an interesting way. It is a wild leap that is artfully done. In less experienced hands it could easily become a emotionally deadening cliche. And there are lots of various wild leaps throughout the collection. In “Car Wash,” right after this romantic apostrophic leap, in the next stanza, a female voice tells the speaker that they are being dramatic and the speaker tells us they know it is only a car wash and that “the prison cell can also be a bedroom” and that “This voice” is “something we can dance to.” And there is plenty to dance to in this collection, even when the content is heavy. As Bertolt Brecht famously said, “In the dark times will there also be singing? Yes, there will also be singing. About the dark times.”
What I am trying to say is better felt and experienced by reading the poetry in Blue Movie. Even though the content is sometimes heavy, there is also often a light touch here. An amazing openness. The poems are full of life. Full of motion and emotion. As David Shields persuasively argues in his book, Reality Hunger, we are very hungry for reality (and authenticity). First there were reality shows. Then there were reality shows about the reality shows. Now we have a constant stream of social media and various forms of tell-all memoirs. But we keep pulling the curtains back only to find more curtains. Layers upon layers of curtains. And of course art has the word artifice in it. Bobby Parker seems well aware of this tension in his collection of poems Blue Movie. Art is never fully reconciled with reality (and vice versa). It is always in motion. 
26 November 2015