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ONCE WEEKLY: FIFTY-TWO POEMS

By Jeff Cloves

Ourside Stroud Publications, unpaginated. £5

Reviewed by Charles Ashleigh

Jeff Cloves says that heís never been a prolific writer, and when a friend challenged him to produce a poem a week, he wondered if he was up to the task. Iíve talked to poets whoíve decided that doing something along the same lines might be a good way to get the creative juices flowing. Waiting around for inspiration doesnít always result in it arriving. Years ago, I remember the poet, Gael Turnbull, adopted a similar idea, though in his case he selected a word each day and wrote a poem around it. He didnít attempt to push it beyond a certain limit, and the result was a small book, Twenty Words, Twenty Days.

I suppose the success, or otherwise, of a scheme like this may rest with whether or not the poet has something of interest to say. In my own experience, many books with fifty-two poems written over a longer period than a year donít always hold the attention all the way through. Academics may care to religiously find their way into a poetís collected works, looking for significance in every line, but I suspect a lot of readers are more like me and, reading for pleasure, move on quickly if something doesnít appeal to them. I often think Iím lucky if I come across half-a-dozen memorable poems in a book. And it can be less.  

Cloves succeeds, I think, because he settles for a quite basic technique which is unobtrusive. Itís what is being said that counts:

                                               Over and over
                                               I see them on their tandem                                                                                       
                                              
cycling to Wales or wherever            
                                              
with all their family camping gear                                                                                                             on the carriers front and rear

Those lines are from a poem about Clovesí father and mother, and Iíve used them because their simplicity, of both structure and content, is typical of the poems as a whole. Simplicity is a virtue in this case. The ordinary can blend easily with the curious, if it occurs.

In a way, itís not necessary to have any sort of opening that startles or arouses curiosity. Itís like reading a book that tells a story and turning to the next page is the natural thing to do. Cloves really is telling a story that includes family reminiscences, comments on the dayís events (cats killing a pigeon and dragging it into the kitchen to dismember it), childhood memories of Italian prisoners-of-war, music heard and enjoyed, art, politics. One weekís contribution is essentially a catalogue of what he dislikes Ė kings and queens, prophets, business tycoons, armies, and much more:

                                          away with religions                                                                                                                                                             away with cant                                                                                                                                                                          away with superstition                                                                                                                        away with foul government

Clovesí anarchist sympathies are easy to identify. Yes, some of the poems are more interesting than others, but some days are more interesting than others. The point is that when I started to read this book I didnít stop until Iíd finished it. It held my interest. Good days, less than good days (though often with something that lightens them, if only for a moment or two), theyíre all recorded by Cloves in a relaxed manner.  Heís easy to follow and often fun to read. Once Weekly is an attractive, nicely-illustrated small book.

Once Weekly: Fifty Two Poems can be obtained from Jeff Cloves, Ourside Stroud Publications, 3 Rodborough Avenue, Stroud, Gloucestershire, GL5 3RR. Price £5.