Tough, explicit and wickedly clever ? Alan Brownjohn
About Neil Rollinson
Neil Rollinson’s poetry has been noted for its eroticism, and certainly the earlier collections are dominated by sensual encounters of various kinds. His subject matter also takes in science and sports which has led one reviewer to describe him as ‘a poet of unashamed masculinity’, while another placed his work in ‘New Lad territory’, but such labels detract considerably from the sensitivity of Rollinson’s approach; in fact these are poems which are, at heart, romantic. As Ruth Padel writes, ‘what crackles off his pages is not obscenity but delight in language, in revelatory ways of seeing the world’.
Rollinson was born in Yorkshire in 1960. He has published three collections of poetry with Jonathan Cape, A Spillage of Mercury (1996), Spanish Fly (2001) and Demolition (2009), all Poetry Book Society Recommendations. In 2007 he won first prize in the National Poetry Competition with ‘Constellations’ and has since been a Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Camberwell College of Art, and Poet in Residence at the Wordsworth Trust. He won a Cholmendeley Award in 2005.
In a discussion of the poem ‘Giant Puffballs’, Padel describes Rollinson’s work as accessing ‘places other poems can’t reach’, and indeed here and elsewhere in his poetry Rollinson broaches subjects others might shy away from – in this case, shitting in the woods. Some may not have the stomach for such a poem – ‘the undigested sweetcorn / bright as stones in a brooch’ – but Rollinson somehow manages to rescue the act from the realms of shame and secrecy and return it to its simple, natural origins: ‘and the smell / is like marzipan, not offensive / as it is against the clinical spruce / of the ordinary bathroom. It steams / in the dirt…’ A contribution to that small but robust subgenre: the call-of-nature pastoral poem.
Rollinson’s sense of humour is of course central to his work, as conveyed in the recording by his assertive and slightly wry delivery. ‘My Wives’ for example, plays on the potential for frisson on public transport as passengers eye each other up, the speaker imagining that all the women ascending from the underground belong to him: ‘I descend on Holborn’s escalator / watching my wives pass by on the opposite side, / smiling, waving at me; they shout in Swedish, /Russian, Urdu, that they’ll always love me.’ Occasionally the poems strike a melancholic note, when the closeness between two people transforms, inevitably, into apartness. ‘My Wives’ ends with the speaker ‘home alone…in an empty bed’. Meanwhile, in ‘Entropy’, a scientific conceit illustrates the absence of the speaker’s lover with a somewhat arch melodrama: ‘Your coffee grows cold on the kitchen table / which means the universe is dying’. If sensuality is one of the themes to which Rollinson returns again and again, then death (the end of sensing) is always also a part of the picture.
Neil Rollinson’s recording was made at The Soundhouse, London on 14 January 2014. The producer was Anne Rosenfeld.