A Review of 'Cigarettes, Beer and Love', by Ralph Dartford
Posted by tcook on Sat, 12 Oct 2013
Ralph Dartford has been a member of ABC since the beginning. He's just put out a fantastic collection of poems, and I wanted to share this glowing review from Rachael Smart (a.k.a VeraClark) with you all:
In his debut collection, Ralph Dartford presents narrative poems that are compassionate and heartfelt, gritty and bleak, brimming with insight, experience, truths and tragedy. For starters, ‘Cigarettes, Beer and Love’ is up there with some of the most exquisite poetry books I’ve had the pleasure of handling. It is handbag-sized, a mini book that begs to be touched and carried with you, every page lovingly hand-crafted from fine paper and card. Ralph’s poems are nestled between urban photographs which add a cryptic depth and shot of colour to his first collection. The images feel symbolic against the poetry, they might not be, but even so, they invite the reader to chew over them and try to link dot-to-dots between the words on the page and the camera’s gaze.
Ralph’s poetry has a touch of the modern blues about it; colloquial in style, simple language - not simple poetry - plain-speaking in a refreshingly direct way without a hint of plain. Ralph writes in an accessible way that invites us to casually enter his downtown poetics; to sup booze with quirky characters, muse over the ebbs and flows of relationships, delve in to loving and losses, then pass by death and grief in all their brutal tragedy. Ralph has a confident rein of all that is complex and heartfelt in human matters. The characters are drawn with precision and the imagery is as sharp as the shrewd lens of a camera. The poetic style varies, showing off Ralph’s range marvellously. The pithy, short-lined rhythms are a linguistic rhyming pleasure, whilst the free-verse in the longer poems gives a sense of the new and experimental.
There is a dry wit and humour studded throughout and some unusual spins on the ordinary which whisks readers from the familiar to the curious in a few words. In Co-op Live Art Fiasco, an Arts Council artist waiting in a supermarket queue strips bare, his Lucozade purchase becoming the muse to: ‘Strike a pose / Stick an empty bottle / up my bum.’ In stark contrast, Blow narrates an unconscious women’s life history as the paramedic resuscitates: ‘Her body is a centrepiece / its skin iced, diced, puffed / The blood needles / high five her sleep .’ Ralph creates bona fide dialogues with the everyday and pins down moments of human interaction with startling clarity.
In short, Ralph is an urban poet that really gives something of himself to his work; his poems are imbued with potent images and experiences. His language lifts off the page. You can just tell his heart is in it.
Pick up a copy of Cigarettes, Beer and Love here.