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It is love, however: Ralph Hawkins, Gone to Marzipan, 119pp. Shearsman. 978 1 84861-021-7, Ł9.95

Gone to Marzipan? In this new collection of poems from the lyric experimentalist Ralph Hawkins the phrase is the last scribbled message a lover has left before walking out. In the poem in question "She left a note", the speaker, and I think the reader, finds this puzzling and amusing at the same time. Was Mozambique the real destination, Hawkins’s persona wonders, a typical error of the now departed? It’s not really a question: in that remembering affection the absent lover is teased for and conjured from her endearing confusion. But, because such condescension of adoration must at times be annoying to its recipient, Hawkins’s query may be a symptom of the precise grounds for the breakdown. In this way this outwardly insouciant poetry begins to revel in snags and hitches, proceeding as if quickly but catching itself in questions that enliven and enrich.

For the reader of this poem, as so often in Hawkins’s work, there is a double-take: here it’s as if at the very point when the fond relationship seems to have achieved the metaphoric ‘icing on the cake’, so the affair ends, and yes, Marzipan-like, capping, sealing, finishing. Both lovers have indeed ‘gone to Marzipan’ and probably in the same way that one goes to ground, to bad, to seed (if the restless Hawkins could ever adopt such finality, and if there wasn’t so much fun in the poem). The last line suggests one of the mind’s further hop-, skip- and jump-cuts, from confectionary to sexualised exoticism to sensual flashback delight: "Did she mean Mozambique // The resin wafting from pine // The almond of her thighs."

Although this collection is wide-ranging in detail, wolves, the Far East, sweet foodstuffs and off-the-cuff philosophising keep on popping up across the whole. They offer an unlikely cohesion of subject as well as sensibility. Hawkins is an information-snacker entertainingly on the move. Often using double-spacing, the poems seem to want the reader to leap down across the ‘missing’ rungs of their verse ladders, moving the reading experience on quickly while also conscious of such lacunae for later reflection. Syncopation and apparent non-sequitur gather a fascinating force in this way, as with the concluding lines of "Descriptions of Huts (Orders of Survival): "out at sea (all at sea) is a drowning dog near a floating log / just passing through the essential carpentry stage // you can just about hear his bark // and here comes the rescue canoe // or is it a coracle."

It is love, however, that is the main theme here, Hawkins balancing the chaotic tendencies in perception, especially where romantic matters are concerned, with poetry’s ability to communicate in ways beyond the conventions of speech. As he tells us in "Photographs" there is "the contingent instability of meaning / the here and not here of your likeness / it’s like a pencil / I can write things I never say." The collagist technique fits in well with this acceptance of meaning coming from the manipulation (and perhaps even creation) of the near-random. Finally, the concluding sequence "The Queen of Puddings" allows the lover more of a say, a riposte perhaps, and the speaker in his myriad selves is comically dramatised: "Iceland seems so cold / No she said / Making a fool of myself // How many fools is that?"





   
 
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