A short and informal review of We Are All Lucky a collection of poetry written by Ben Banyard, published by Indigo Dreams. Not because I was asked to – but because I enjoyed the collection so much!
In my title I use the word ‘everyday’, and that is more complimentary than it might at first sound; who says there is anything wrong with the everyday? The everyday is the universal and Ben Banyard explores this in We Are All Lucky. In his poems Ben does precisely what I look for in a poem; he points towards the small things in our lives and reminds us that these moments, these exchanges and places are what bind us and makes us who we are. There is nothing showy or deliberately tricksy, nothing that says “Look at me, I’m a poet!” in the way too much contemporary writing does. Instead we have a collection that keeps on rewarding by speaking directly to us; nod of recognition when you finish reading a poem, followed by nod of recognition and wry smile as you finish the next, as we see ourselves and the world around us reflected. It is through the familiar that Ben gets us to new ways of seeing.
Poems such as ‘The Difference Between Us’ and ‘First Aid’ zero in on moments we have all been through, and Ben finds the tug within those moments that get the reader to look again at such times and see their workings. The seemingly everyday becomes something larger than the moment described. So the set of keys found in the first of these poems acts as symbol for the way we see life differently from each other, or our partners;
I close the drawer, forget them;
You lie awake most nights, straining
To hear them whisper their secrets.
Whilst in the second of these poems, the mandatory First Aid training course reminds us that a “life behind laptops and paper clips,” is no kind of life to those who have “seen things” like the ex-Army instructor who keeps a defibrillator on “in the boot of his car because he knows.” In this poem, another demonstration of Ben’s keen eye for the everyday, he juggles the cynical office worker alongside the tormented instructor in order to arrive at a confrontation with self that takes us way beyond the familiar.
Indeed the familiar, supermarket checkouts, daily commutes and a junk shop that has become “a rock pool / restocked by the city’s tide” provide Ben with a canvas for his incisive observations. However, there are darker elements acknowledged so the world is not entirely sweetened by the warmth of recognition. Domestic violence breaks in and a quiet acceptance of death is present in some of the poignant pieces. Family is here too, with parenthood being a concern of a number of poems. However, what just stops a series of poems about parenthood and children turn too saccharine is the poem ‘Beach-combing’ that references that terrible picture of the toddler face-down on a beach that became etched on our psyches amidst stories of fleeing migrants in the Mediterranean. “You’ve seen the photo” says the speaker of the poem as he reflects on a day spent with his own son playing on a beach. The poem takes on a huge subject, and one that could easily be mishandled, but the poem works beautifully – perhaps the poem’s structure helps this, the speaker does not seek to explain or argue, he does not even make that image the last part of the poem – and I think it is that aspect that really helps this delicate poem resist the weight that such a topic brings.
I mention the way ‘Beach-combing’ comes amid a run of family centred poems, and packs a punch because of this. I imagine Ben worked long and hard to get the sequencing of these poems to such a fine point. Short runs of poems are up and running on a topic before you quite notice that the focus has shifted from one subject to another. And the sequencing clearly allows the poems to ‘speak’ to one another so that, as stand-alone poems, the pieces would work well, but as part of a whole they grow further.
And there is light in these poems. I don’t want to give the impression that all the themes are weighty. We have Johnny Cash “safe among” prisoners reflecting on how fine that line he walked really was, we have the football team whose shirts “feature the logo of a local scaffolding firm,” and the pub with a “Pool table sunspot-faded… / Jukebox stocked up to the early-nineties.” Indeed, here is the milieu of our everyday lives, and here is a collection that speaks to us and speaks of now.