A sense of fun is all too often absent from poetry. It doesn't have to be difficult or elitist, but humor is mostly seen as a disadvantage to the high-minded, a case of letting the side down. Marvin Cheeseman is a poet who thankfully has been letting sides down with laughter and tremendous aplomb for years. His work has been featured on the BBC, TV and radio. He's even been name-checked by the Ting Tings. A perfect collision of a pop sensibility with a wry twist on the everyday.
Cheeseman is the natural successor to the rock bard John Cooper Clarke masquerading as a bedsit Betjeman. Poets come and go with alarming regularity, but this particular one is still on the journey towards arrival. We Hate It When Our Ex-Lodgers Become Successful is his latest report from the launderette of life. There is something resolutely British about his particular palette. A Mancunian marooned in the Lake District, he is the poetry equivalent of Carry On fun and saucy seaside postcards. He references his beloved Morrissey in "Heaven Knows I'm Middle Class Now":
In my life, why should I waste valuable time, in supermarkets that only stock one type of hummus.
Peopled with fading televisionaries, references to pop songs, and chocolate of various wrappers, he is the patron saint of populism. The collection contains a marvelously adroit series of horoscopes in which the genre is lampooned by skewering the vernacular and tone most astrologers employ. Leo advises,
Venus is traveling through your romance zone right now, so perhaps it's time for some new underwear. In fact it's time for some new underwear anyway, regardless of where Venus is. You should have got round to it when the sales were on when you meant to.
Anxiety remains the symptom he recognizes and employs to engage and unsettle his audience, but then it takes one to know one. Guilt about global warming crops up too in snippets such as, "There's no fuel like an old fuel" and the amusing "Let There Be Light," wherein he pleads, "Let there be light...Banish the gloom. Just don't burn a light bulb in an empty room." The past master of the parody, he has previously sampled Kipling; in this selection he uses Roger McGough as the springboard for "Let Me Die a Coward's Death":
Or when I'm 103, and having lost each and every one of my marbles May I kick the bucket gently and not know a thing Having set the clock to never hear it ring.
There is an errant traditionalist lurking amongst Cheeseman's apparent flippancy. A lover of the limerick, he has included a selection of his own. Football, smut, and movie stars fall victim of his wry outlook. His unkind but accurate take on a Star Trek legend is suitably irreverent:
A TRIBUTE TO WILLIAM SHATNER Captain Kirk was considered a looker But when he became T.J Hooker I think Mr. Spock would have got quite a shock At this podgy wig-wearing old ***ker
This is an annoying use of asterisks in some of the poems. An asterisk is an apology and a fudge. If you use cunt, which he does in another limerick, then print it as you penned it. Don't castrate it, look half-arsed or semi-apologetic. Celebrate the freedom to be a bawd, and revel in the right to appall. What I particularly appreciate about Cheeseman is his discreet sensibility, the adept use of light touches to lampoon the darkest of subjects. Grief gets short shrift in the astute, instantly classic "Some People Just Can't Get Over Things," revealed in all it's asterisk-removed glory, and again suggests a sense of Morrissey.
On the wall in the frame is a goldfish The kids couldn't quite say goodbye Some people just can't get over things Some folk just can't let it lie. Down below, alas, stuffed and mounted Rex is on permanent show Some people just can't get over things Some folk just can't let it go To the left is an urn on a plant stand Filled with ash, Auntie Flo long since gone Some people just can't get over things Some folk just cannot move on To the right in a tank of formaldehyde Uncle Stan's wearing only a beard Some people just can't get over things Some folk are just fucking weird
Marvin Cheeseman has a gently mocking, common touch. In poetry circles, that may be viewed as a slight. It isn't. The ability to connect without unnecessary artifice is all too rare. His work is charming and contemporary. Like Noel Coward, he has a talent to amuse by raising a knowing smile that lingers long in the mind. Wit and warmth. What more could you wish for?