The Escape Artists by Ben Parker (tall-lighthouse, 2012)
Reviewed by Sarah-Clare Conlon
Ben Parker’s poems are set in places on the edge, inhabited by people on the edge. His first collection, The Escape Artists, opens with a couple rehoming a horse – and not any old horse; rather, the “horse from which all other horses were bred”. The couple, it transpires, have unwittingly taken a dog from a farmyard, and in thus doing, transferred it from a place on the edge into their own existence at the margins of society.
Other pieces take us through beer-fugged circuses, weird villages penned in by sinister woods and lakes that freeze only once in a lifetime, scary restaurants, fully mirrored flats that force the owner to look in on himself, a tinklebell-protected shogun’s palace and the Cinema of the Drowned.
The First Inhabitant of the Asylum is an enigma; she knows more residents are to come, even though she herself feels unique in her state and institution. Storm Line sucks the reader into a nightmare scenario of landline – lifeline in the not-too-distant past – causing a maelstrom of emotions.
Heroine’s Bath is stated as being “After Daniel Eltinger”, a painter of polychromatic abstracts, and its emphasis on colours and surface finishes becomes clearer when the artist’s work is viewed. This poem is made up of rhyming couplets; elsewhere there are sonnets and pieces that could almost be described as flash fictions, including the arresting title poem, which stands out as more sci-fi/genre.