A profile by Les Robinson
How do you define a poet’s poetry, how do you respond to ‘what kind of poetry does he write?’ Having had the pleasure of working with him as editor/publisher there are a variety of words & phrases that come to mind when I think of Ken Champion’s work – direct and un-pretentious, comic and surreal. His accomplished style creates a poetry that is acute of observation, rich in memory, poignant, yet full of humour for the absurdity of everyday objects, words & happenings.
But what can that mean to a reader? And there are many as he has a dedicated following of editors in many small presses & magazines in the UK, Europe & the United States where his poetry has been extensively published over the past decade or so. In simple language he shapes a poem that is distinctively his own. (Alan Dent, The Penniless Press) & Robert Cole, editor of the now defunct Chimera said of his work - Gritty, urban, contemporary poems of a soulful and ironic nature... a voice that is immediate and compelling.
He has had two chapbooks & a full collection published (but black & white is better – tall-lighthouse).
Over the many years he has wrote poetry he has become comfortable with his work, but his vocabulary isn’t cosy, nor is it precious. There is a constant challenge in his poems, his deliberately fractured prose & acute use of the vernacular keep the reader aware and attuned to his direct, un-flowery observations. This is highlighted in two poems that reflect in a kaleidoscopic way the poet's travels. In the poem Roma, using the names & the accent of foreign language to create a sense of place but also of alienation. In the poem Quincy-Chicago there are signs observed, words overheard, emotion flowing from the detail presented to the reader.
Ken writes with remarkable clarity; it has been said that his poetry achieves the memorable resolution of a Robert Doisneau photograph. Looking at his poem Reflex, which itself is about the act of being photographed, this becomes evident in the detail given, a snapshot, capturing for eternity a precise, gentle moment:
………………….. Look at the lens not me,
you put your head to one side don’t you, did it as a
child I say. Forget the boy she grins; another clunk,
echo, an old Hasselblad, let’s go outside, it’s sunny;
she’s young, slim, post-graduate photography project,
picked me at random.
and he also demonstrates another of his themes here – unrequited lust & longing.
Move the stone cat to face me
she smiles, sit on the rockery, turn your head away
but eyes towards the camera - she holds it in front
of her groin; inside again, shift the lamp, stand
next to the mural, relax, that’s great; think of my son,
her age, know he’d fancy her - pimp daddy he’d call me,
Ken is also a renowned reader of his work; in his readings his humour comes to the fore. The early influence of Roger McGough shines through in his quietly captured comedy. His well delivered cast-off lines are reminiscent of a Jewish NY humour, tinged with Catholicism, and the poem Mindset creates a warm humour allowing respectable distance from the harshness of the subject.
In Carpet, amongst the chaos the poet’s winning response diffuses the violence with humour & of course Anthropomorthingy & Interview are amongst Ken’s greatest hits, the image in Interview, even allowing that there are no typists any-more, still brings a smile to those of us old enough to remember the typing-pool:
I’d just asked the typist out
In other poems he recreates memories, or the fiction of memory. There is a tension between the dialogue used and the poetry observed. In the poem Dad’s Dog the extensive use of conversations at times hinder the overall effect of the poem, but are they not the essential listening that creates the poem’s strength?
His cannon also include many poems where he reflects his strong sense of waste and frustration looking back on his life before university as a mature student. These are countered however by the poems written when he was a lecturer in Sociology (the chapbook sequence African Time is a concise collection of these poems) represented here by the poem First Day Back).
He is also expert at creating different personas, but capable of empathising with each persona in the poems. If you read within the poem Locations you enter a monochrome world of 50’s movies, innocent yet alluring. We also have here, in deliberately concise imagery, Ken’s enthusiasm for architecture & again his unrequited passions & loves are there on his sleeve:
And the ending is beautiful in its imagery, leaving the reader watching in silence as the wheel continues to turn; the perfectly observed conclusion;
But I’m going to change; be the man that spins the
wheel on the overturned car at the end of the film.
Ken is working increasingly, and successfully, on short fiction, but returns to poetry regularly. And long may he keep the wheel spinning so we can enjoy his eclectic poetry for many years to come.