Vertigo To Go, by Brendon Booth-Jones, is a powerful poetry collection with a deeply personal vibe. Running through each entry are musings on the loneliness and perceived failures of modern living.
The narrator gets by on a cocktail of drugs, alcohol and attempts at forging relationships that subsequently go awry. There is an undercurrent of grief for a father who died when the narrator was a child. He castigates himself for not honouring the man’s memory by being the person he aspires to be – ‘more reason to call myself your son’. There are also concerns at how easily he allows the burning of the planet to slide under his easily distracted radar.
“all I do is try to scroll the loneliness away – while faceless corporations push species after species down the ravenous black hole of extinction.”
The opening section, Whippet, contains five poems that hold up a mirror to adolescence.
Ashley presents a set of fifteen year olds doing drugs in a friend’s garage, sprawled out on beanbags while listening to the likes of Hendrix and Cobain. Caught up in the moment, along with thoughts of ‘the luminous tantalizing future’, the narrator misses his friend’s cry to be heard. It is only later in life, when he realises they have lost touch, that he becomes haunted by what may have become of the boy.
“I had been too busy riding the radiant final wave
of innocence behind my eyes
to see his hands shaking”
Testimony precedes this by a year. The narrator is in a church listening to the shrieking output of an evangelical preacher. In a moment of quiet, on his way to use the bathroom, he comes across another preacher evicting a homeless man into the ‘deluge of winter night’ with words of hatred.
“it was one of those moments
when you either scuttle back
into the warm fold of all you’ve known
or you turn your back and leap into a dark future –
away from the sickly sweet cologne
of toilet freshener cloying your throat:
that synthetic smell of fake flowers
trying to cover shit -“
The section finishes with Codex in which the narrator sets out on the rest of his life, away from ‘the religion: a cardboard cutout of love’ and ‘the school: a conveyor belt of hate’. He carries with him the poison of his stepfather’s words: ‘Your daddy never loved you!’ to lose himself in ‘the fear and vertigo and glitter -‘ beyond graduation.
The what comes next is covered in the remaining poems in the collection. There is apparent success – champagne parties held at McMansions with swimming pools – but any pleasure derived is shaded by loneliness and memory. Sonnet is a brilliant depiction of modern living – limited attention spans and the diversions available.
“Breaking news: the news is broken. Purpose is replaced by a plastic replica. How fast does my attention fade on a scale from Brexit to breakneck? Cute Cat Singing Christmas Carols!”
Poem Scraped from Greasy Menu somehow manages to explain the damage caused by modern capitalism, asking how a ‘young child who loved dinosaurs, bees and flowers’ makes the leap ‘from carefree to cruelty’.
“And that salmon, sir, was dyed pink and pumped
with preservatives. Slave-wage workers
with weeping minds picked your precious coffee beans –
But the planet you tamed climbs back up the chain
in blind revenge. No apex predator escapes.
Earth rolls back red eyes (red claws, red fangs).
Don’t you see the blazing December sun? The snowy summers?
The ocean up to its throat in microplastics?”
Another recurrent theme is relationships, often at their breakup. Catacombs is set in Paris, the narrator recognising his failure to perform as required and expected.
“I couldn’t get it right
I walked too fast. I walked too slow.
I chewed too loud. I mumbled.”
At the site of the crash sees the narrator faced with a traumatic death that hits all the harder when he spots a photo of a young boy on a bloody dashboard – who now perhaps faces a lifetime of grief that is achingly familiar.
The repeating aspects in the collection – cutting words that cannot be forgotten; that each person is the sum of everything that has gone before yet struggles to learn its lessons; that how the world is treated will effect all who live in it, including man – are presented with a simplicity that nevertheless eviscerates.
In Poem for my Mother the narrator states ‘you taught me not to look away’. It is, perhaps, when he looks away, when he seeks a chemical release from the loneliness faced, that he disappoints himself more than the father whose love was denied by a cruel stepfather, whose religion was equally hate filled.
It is always pleasing when good writing is packaged well and I must mention the aesthetics of this slim collection. The photos and end papers add to the enjoyment to be gleaned while perusing the impressive contents.
This is poetry I eagerly recommend to all – aficionados and those who would like to read more of the form but perhaps fear they won’t get it. Readers of either ilk will be bowled over by the resonance and connection of each entry in this collection. I am grateful that its existence was brought to my attention.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, The Hedgehog Press.