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Ben Parker's The Escape Artists

Ben Parker is a gradate of UEA's Poetry MA, and was shortlisted for the prestigious Melita Hume International Poetry Prize in 2012.  His debut pamphlet The Escape Artists now comes from tall-lighthouse, who have given us great such debuts in the past, from Liz Berry, Emily Berry, and Helen Mort (who all studied with me in my Poetry School workshop and have since gone on to establish themselves as significant younger poets).  I have not ever mentored Parker, but I wish I could say I did, for his is a very impressive debut.  The poems tend to come in two or three forms - mostly, they flow down the page in one large block, without stanzas - each line punching out a firm sense of its sound.  They work like the short stories of Kafka, or the poems of Charles Simic - as surreal, unsettling parables, teetering on the edge of the recognisable.  They are not merely edgy or sinister - overused terms for such a manner - but they are uncanny, and they leave the reader haunted.

The word play and music of the poems is subtle, but it is there - even when apparently prosaic, these are clearly designed to be poems, and they bring back a mythic sense to poetry that was somewhat lacking of late - that is, these are both darkly witty and serious poems, with a heft to them.  These are no mere pastiches, or ironic trifles.  You feel a worldview here, are in the presence of a very active imagination.  The cinema where you watch the drowning is terrifying, but unusual.  And half the poems at least contain ideas of unique merit.  A few of the poems strike me as being fully brilliant, and warrant inclusion in whatever generational anthologies still loom.  This is one of the key pamphlets of 2012 published in the UK, and I recommend it highly.

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