Jeremy Reed’s Candy 4 Cannibals is 90 poems in seven sections, “Personals”, “Do You Come Here Often?”, “Addicted”, “Mister Right”, “Sunshine of your Love”, “Urban Glamour” and “Last Tango”. The sections are loosely themed – Reed writes about anything and everything; the poetry considers doughnuts and drugs – purple hearts, morphine, Valium – rock stars, cherry-red Polish vodka, red wine, sticky toffee crème brûlée, doctors, and flowers, lots of flowers – white lilacs, peonies, gardenia, purple hydrangeas, hyacinths, gladioli, pink morning glories, convolvulus, aquilegia, black petunias, narcissus, black hollyhocks, huge red poppies.
In fact Reed does not so much write about any of these things, as use them as a starting point for his poetic flight; he declares gladioli as his “subject of the day” (in the poem “Gladioli”), but they are an “associative metaphor” for pop star Morrissey and time spent on a South Bank pop-up beach, the Royal Festival Hall “blocked behind my back”.
Reed’s flowers provide a visual spark; they invite poems “by graduated patterns”, the “off-white UFO formation” of convolvulus could be “brutalist skyscrapers/outdoing the curtained Shard” (in Convolvulus”); they rehearse “vertical yogic postures” (“Narcissus”), subverted from nature to city as “brutalist hairy skyscrapers” (“Huge Red Poppies”), both “eyed-up” as something of interest in the foreground, mixed in salad (but without the cardiogenic toxic root, in “Aquilegia”), and also forming the backdrop to relationships, a reminder of urban life, as if looking at them takes us “backwards into time” (“Narcissus”).
The collection also contains some more personal poems, with the poet admitting to difficulty with birthdays, addictions and looking back on his own history. “Falling Apart”, about Reed’s mother, is particularly affecting, and there are some memorable poems (“White Lilac”, “Alstroemeria”) about poet Lee Harwood, to whom the collection is dedicated; as well, a section of poems, “Mister Right”, is in memory of ‘60s fashion entrepreneur Bill Franks. At times Reed is willing to place himself in the poem (his street exchange with “My Familiar Junky” as “navigable empathy”), and the hussle of city life is expertly evoked with “all those moving lights, travelling dazzle/all speeding one way towards Waterloo” (“Taken My Feet Away”).
Reed’s poetry thrives off the energy of city life, with energetic descriptions of his time writing poetry in London, “on a skinny knee in Leicester Square” (“Habit”) and meeting friends in cafés, with easily identifiable moments for the reader:
You get the Tea Pigs selection
the nylon sachet like a crumpled parachute
immersed in steam, and when the rain comes on
it’s like hissy maracas, trillions
of atmospheres smashing down over miles.
Reed is a poet of detail; he describes himself as a “detail fetishist of what I see” in the colour intense “From The Bottom Up”, in which the sky is “Normandy grey and Cupboard green/79 and 201” on Little Greene Colour Chart. For this collection, Reed’s particular fetish, as well as flowers, appears to be food (particularly cereal/granola), which he uses as a continuing motif, and aligns with the notion of appetite and the title of the book. His poetry zooms in and out with a curious eye. He creates “sensory dazzle” through his use of colour, but often uses a complex syntax, switching between objects and human subject. The jam dollop of a doughnut is compared to a bite of redemption, tantric sex, a compact ruby and an injured brain after a fall (in “Doughnut”), and a pudding is de-constructed to consider:
But it’s the making, vanilla extract,
dark muscovada sugar, toffee sauce
I see folded in you, a diagram
of selectives that added to
is individually by flavour yours
like kicking a street can to see
the angle, logo-up, it falls.
(“Sticky Toffee Crème Brûlée”)
T.S. Eliot is perhaps an unlikely point of reference for Reed – the former outwardly conservative, more suit and tie classical than Reed’s mascara glam-rock. Reed recognises this in “Eliot + 100”, that Eliot’s Bloomsbury look (“black Oxford brogues, dumpy suits”) never “met update”, but still credits him as a revolutionary – he describes his poetry “like raw language in a juicer”. Reed is particularly taken by Eliot’s vision of his city, a London “vacuumed into end of time/pop-up apocalypse tanked into hot/nuclear currency”.
Eliot famously said that immature poets imitate and mature poets steal, and at times Reed shares some of Eliot’s technique. “Do You Come Here Often” speaks in different languages like in Eliot’s “The Waste Land” or “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, and “Any Morning” uses a similar tone and rhythm to some of Eliot’s work:
Cities smell of dyed-out money
and sunk ozone and broken lives
the damage left in a small flat
like legs broken off a chair.
But what of the cannibals of the title? Reed’s urban cannibal (in his poem of the same name) lives in a third floor apartment on Jermyn Street (in the St James area of Westminster, London), “red insulated hotel carpeting/lights dipped like an aircraft cabin”, but makes other guest appearances; American socialite Wallis Simpson is “peachy” with “Eddie’s love-bites, the fade/of cannibalistic stop-shorts” in “Wallis Simpson in the Shower” and cannibalism is the ultimate expression of dysfunction in ”Spleen after Baudelaire (Cannibal Remix)”. “You Can’t Catch Death” wonders how to transfer “an optimistic bite on tomorrow”.
One poem in the collection, “Book Hoarding”, suggests some books are good enough to eat, the dust-jacket likened to sweet wrappers. Although cannibals eat humans not books, Candy 4 Cannibals will appeal to those with a healthy poetic appetite – dig in.
Publisher: Enitharmon Editions
Publication Date: 31 AUG 2017