Rupert Loydell/Robert Sheppard, Risk Assessment

by Michael Peverett

I suppose an expert could tell me how this was written, but I can't work it out. (emails, apparently, came into it). There was evidently a lot of fun, a hefty range of reference, and whatever the poetry is doing at any given moment it always slip-slides between sound dynamics and international-politics noir.

Quite often the fun gets right up on the surface, as

     slowed down to rapid       vertical rain covering the day
     with English Pastoral Regret       autumn come early again
     Indian summer no show       rolling over the treetops

Galoshes in the potting-shed, prismed through the university common room. Consequence of each poet writing for the other's eye, performing, appreciating, those kind of words...

It's difficult to decide which is my favourite, or it's difficult to remember which was (for you inevitably carry on regardless), so anyway I'll go with K:

     Knuckles unbuckling uniforms       newly made ruined structures
     clothing scattered and strewn       across yellow bruised finger blooms
     from the blind justice Tzar       low-tech means and brutal plans
     meticulously constructed chaos       Trojan dances for her pussytails

     name on dead girl's blouse       forgotten signature of resolve
     physically traversed by the camera       shivers ambush Bush cast into
     else awareness of trembling compounds       prisoner abuse totem dance
     baring teeth to break taboo       lid quivered in reclusive shock

     dream which slices somebody else       dictating concrete mornings
     dignity, discipline and dispatch       screened myth, candy-floss muff
     drivers to group Eros       snow on a group of headless figures
     textured quality of execution       make yourself un-heard

     five days walking nowhere       tape hiss background whine
     MI5 listening in to hours of UN basement cafĂ© tapes
     a large work out of broken stones       broken sounds
     tingling tongues in a wailing gang-bang exclusion zone

In the spirit of collaboration I really wanted to misquote this, but when I tried to I discovered a momentum that is quite resistant to interruption, so what you see is almost accurate.

That momentum is the sixteen-line form with its mid-line breaks (one of the latest echoes of the evergreen line of Laȝamon and Langland), with some conclusively swaggering decoration in the final stanza: a formal Arc de Triomphe, unexpectedly. And triumphant on a larger scale, is this whole alphabet of Arcs. You can see the triumph here in "bruised" set beside "ruined", and in "pussytails" (distantly conveying "chrysalis"); or who cannot hear the small gnats mourn in the final line? It's no good excusing this artistry by saying "but we knocked em up really quickly, promise!" Risk Assessment manages to defeat the critical discourse about whether a poetry book is ambitious or not. It is somehow totally unambitious (content to namedrop Gil Evans, bash Bush...) and naturally energetic, with energy from some obscure source that can only be :- ambition? I find that a refreshing atmosphere. Maybe it's inherent to the collaborative dynamic, the burial of personal drives - but buried alive, of course.

The other thing I wanted to say was that I will miss this poetry when no-one writes it any more. That obtrusive wistfulness might have something to do with today's bloody knife hanging over the universities, or our pension funds lapping blackly in the gulf. As if poetry changes as fast as the news and we should value what won't be around forever. Hadn't I taken this pamphlet for granted, unread on my shelves for several years - and now I wish I'd caught it fresh? But it has something legitimate to do with Risk Assessment, also. The speed of composition connects it with 2006, a stronger tie than most poetry admits to. That feeling of "couldn't have been written before or since", that datability, is intriguing.


Risk Assessment by Rupert Loydell & Robert Sheppard was published by Damaged Goods in 2006. Quite a few of the poems are available online. If you want a complete copy your best bet, probably, is to contact one of the authors.

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