Monday, 16 November 2015

Company or solitude, Andrew Waterman's Living Room

There are times when happenstance isn’t limited to the publisher of that name…

…back in the summer, I ordered a second-hand copy of Jonathan Davidson’s The Living Room over the internet. A few days later, a padded envelope turned up. It contained an invoice and delivery note for Davidson’s book, alongside a 1974 first edition of Andrew Waterman’s Living Room, his first collection from The Marvell Press, decked out in their characteristic livery that always reminds me of The Less Deceived.

I was already an admirer of Waterman’s work in anthologies, but this was a chance to get to grips with it as the poet had originally intended. Living Room is a terrific book. Just like Douglas Dunn’s Terry Street, which was published five years earlier, it shows Larkin’s influence in many poems. However, Waterman goes further than Dunn and manages to establish an implicit dialogue with Larkin. One such example is “Calling”, in which the speaker takes on the Mr Bleaney role, giving it a new twist:

“…And I was led up past landing kitchenettes,
And round and up to a slope-roofed room, low bed,
Bed-table, titling wardrobe, cheap bowl fire.

“That’s it, and there’s the meter.” Then,
“You’re young,” he added, “where is your home?”
“Home?” I replied. “Home’s where I find myself…””

There’s a tension throughout Living Room between the need for company and solitude. In this respect, the afore-mentioned poem bears comparison and contrast with another poem, “Betrayal”. In recent years I’ve read a number of successful poems about sharing a bed (Armitage, Duddy and Davidson among them), but “Betrayal” again contributes a fresh, jolting perspective:

“”…Again? To try again again?” he shrank.
And so, apart, both slept.

And wake to find their bodies are entwined
familiarly in warmth and disengage
retreating to the bed’s cold edges,
embarrassed that unwilled flesh should betray
the separation of true minds.”

Waterman’s exploration of his conflicting view on company and solitude also homes in on the accumulation of emotional and physical clutter, the urge to acquire it, then loathe it, then shed it. The collection’s title poem plays a key role, as in the following extract:

“Freedom to thrust like that
through all I’ve dumped into
a bare life since first bareness
seemed failure forfeited
by each act that furnished it,
I dwell here claimed by what
I’ve chosen: living room
that by the more it holds
feels less my home.”

By playing off “more” and “less”, Waterman again achieves an effect that’s reminiscent of Larkin, but the emotional drive is all his own.

Andrew Waterman’s Living Room is a collection that’s held up exceptionally well over the past thirty years. Unlike many of its contemporaries, neither its attitudes nor its poetics seem dated. I feel extremely fortunate to have discovered it, and I’ll be rereading these poems for a long time to come.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Matthew

    Sounds good. I must confess that I had never heard of Andrew Waterman. I once bought a poetry volume by Sophie Hannah from Amazon and when it arrived it included her signature on an inside page. I assume it was her signature. It could, of course, have been the booksellers!

    Best wishes from Simon R. Gladdish