by Les Merton Palores Publications 11a Penryn Street Redruth Cornwall TR15 2SP ISBN 0-9551878-4-2 £6.99 plus £1.50 p&p U.K./ $12 plus $3.00 p&p US

 if you believe you’re a poet, then you’re saved ~ Gregory Corso

The title of this beat-themed collection of poetry by Les Merton tells you what you need to know. Les wrote it because Bryn Fortey put out the late and lamented magazine “Outlaw”, which despite its basic stapled-&-folded A4 presentation, immediately became the best post-beat/ experimental publication on the market, and remained so for the two or three years it survived. Bryn showed everyone the way, and Les honours the way here with 52 poems that might have made the pages of “Outlaw”. And some of them, to be fair, probably did.

 But it’s not just a consciously aimed tribute. You couldn’t put over these poems about murder, strikers, the homeless, prostitutes, beat heroes, musicians, and wanderers if you didn’t feel it. Les travels back and forth in time, visiting the 1940s when the beat sensibility was first given a name (though it must have always been there), the 50s when their fame–and notoriety–influenced a new generation, through the 60s to these modern times when the sensibility has collided with the unyielding harshness of everyday experience and adapted itself into what Merton calls “beat reality”: …an echo of the ancients/ the observation of today/ and the soul of tomorrow (as he defines it in the last poem in the collection). Those Beats are battered but still dreaming, and their dream is what gives heart to modern life and hope to our common future.

 He may well be right, too. If the future is left to the politicians and the businessmen we’ll end up uneducated, unfeeling automatons who exist only to keep the economy buoyant by shopping.

 Technical observations about poetry tend to read rather drily in reviews, but if you haven’t read Merton before, first) a pox on you, and second) the style would be loosely defined as free verse, as you’d imagine in a collection inspired by the Beats. But Les is not given to imitations of Kerouac or Ginsberg. His lines are short, his language eschews the falsely poetic and he does particularly interesting things with the rhythm. Whether that’s a conscious thing or not I don’t know, but he does. After I read the book I found myself experimenting with the music of my own lines much more than I would normally.

The collection comes with a companion cd by Les called “beat reality”. You can currently get a copy of the cd for £6 plus £1.50 p & p in the UK, and $12 plus $3.00 p & p in the US.

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