W. H. Auden once memorably said that poetry "makes nothing happen", but then his disappointment was mainly connected with the failure of the Spanish Civil War to prevent the rise of fascism. The fact is, though, there is more than one type of poetry, and there always has been. No less a personage than Wordsworth described the essence of poetry as "emotion recollected in tranquillity", so not all of it is rabble rousing-though some very fine poems indeed have been written in that tradition. As Hemingway once said, if you are looking for a message, try Western Union.
MacDiarmid prize-winning poet Deborah Tyler-Bennett is more concerned with the poetry of people and places, poetry written in an attempt to communicate what it was like to be there on that given day, at that given time, wherever "there" was.
The "theres" in Revudeville, her latest collection, are mostly in London and her native East Midlands, building on her previous success with Clark Gable in Mansfield (2003) and showing her to be a poet at the very height and command of her mimetic powers, as is borne out by the ever-growing number of readings and personal appearances on which she is engaged. She may not be inciting you to fight for Spain or throw rocks in the street, but she will surprise and possibly delight you with the deft touches of her writing.
As well as communicating a sense of shared time and place in her own voice, the poet’s work in Revudeville contains many poems which carry off that very difficult yet very clever trick of speaking in someone else’s voice, very well. Such ventriloquism in verse is nothing particularly new, of course, T. S. Eliot in The Waste Land and, before him, Robert Browning both showed the world how to do it; Eliot, indeed, shares much of the City of London territory and subject-matter with Deborah Tyler-Bennett, particularly in the section of the book entitled "London Cries", where she deftly dons and doffs the masks and disguises of such diverse characters as William Hogarth (and his dog) Thomas Coram, Thomas De Quincey, and others from a tapestry of characters that belongs firmly in the gallery of Hawksmoor, St Mary Woolnoth, and the psycho-geography of Iain Sinclair. In keeping with the ethos of the book, the typography has been executed in a facsimile 18th century font. The remaining sequence of London poems brings the 18th century up to date with references to the louche, loafing lifestyle of Soho, Jeffrey Bernard and The Coach and Horses.
The final sequence of poems, "Goose Fair Voices", takes its nomenclature from the annual Nottingham traditional fairground event and introduces us to the likes of Professor Frean or Prince Samanda, in a series of acute observations which sees the author return to her East Midland roots, territory she so profitably inhabited in several of the poems from Clark Gable in Mansfield.
Since Auden’s oracular pronouncement, we’ve lived through a world war, a cold war, and a war against terror, not to mention immense social change, the rise of the internet, and a near-collapse of the global financial system. And poetry has reflected those changes in turn. We’re not in Kansas any more. Maybe we should be celebrating poetry that doesn’t make anything "happen". Poetry that explores the interior landscapes of people’s lives and communicates their essence. Poetry, such as that in Revudeville, that touches on the universality of the human experience.