Out Of Darkness – review of selected poems by Barrie Singleton

The principal, “terrified that a free mind will destroy the building”, forces him to eat his frozen grits, which he does, “unblinking, bug-eyed, mocking”. Then, recalls Barrie, writing some seventy years later, “The Head is gone – threat rejected, but I saw truths, unseen.”

The first of these invisible truths, and one that pervades the forty-two poems in this selection, is that respect for authority and the establishment should not be a conditioned response: it should be rational and informed. Any institution that hasn’t earned this poet’s respect (Westminster being the prime example) is a valid target for his vitriol, and Out Of Darkness offers vitriol in abundance, lightened with whiplashes of sly humor.

In 2005, Barrie ran for parliament, not to get into that “vile bunch”, but to highlight its absurdities: its motto: “Spoil Party Games”.

Now, in Out Of Darkness, he leans into Westminster from the outside like a latter-day Don Quixote. Three poems in particular exemplify his singular mix of virulence and humor. The day Westminster was dismantled imagine the population arriving to tear down that perfidious building: “The crowd came with sleds and bars, each holding a ‘bag for life’.”

The second, doubtful, plays Rudyard Kipling to rail against the “Creatures of Westminster” within him – “if you can flatter and not be irritated by flattery or, being outdone, conspire [the PM’s] death…”

And the third, film noir, dismantles Tony Blair’s legacy smile by damn smile, focusing on Blair’s recalcitrant dark tooth: “In some mystical way, his teeth revealed / The root of his being with nothing hidden.”

Having leaned into the false philosophers in the first part and the perfidious politicians in the second, Barrie spends the third imitating other poets, some in reverent homage, others with scorn.

Eliot, Betjeman (twice), Hughes, Shelley, Armitage, Pope, and Heaney all get the Singleton treatment.

The particular gems are: Discourage (Come pretty kite, crush the Earth / It has nothing of value); seamus workshop (No neatly stacked sequiturs / Drying in a metaphorical sun); and wrath of innocence, a tribute to Dylan Thomas in which this poet rages against the injustice of being born without consent: “Do not easily enter that cruel situation. / Rage! Rage against the intrusion of light!”. Sylvia Plath fans will enjoy Singleton’s treatment of Ted Hughes in wrath bourne (Bore asleep / Waking up intermittently / With head problems / You hatch / Furious and running / In elemental abandon / Unconcerned with offense / Or fence / In your effervescence of anger…”

Out Of Darkness ends, as it began, on an autobiographical note.

Where Semolina explains the root of the poet’s rage, new poet of rage tells how anger is channeled.

One night, Barrie stumbles upon the “unctuous spleen” of Pope, who, he discovers, has been given the gift of words “through which to lash and lash out in series at friend, foe, and figs: a true iconoclast.” Barrie finds himself inspired: “at seventy, and sometime triple his age / with delegated pedigree, I find a new anger… in Nihilist Nirvana Pope and I / bestow a negativity that will not die.”

Copies can be purchased by sending a check payable to IJH Books at 8 Cliff Road, Cowes, PO31 8BN. UK only.

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