JAMES McLOUGHLIN – ‘ENCORE’ (VALLEY PRESS)
REVIEW by STEVE RUDD
Ripping at the seams with thirty-three profound poems, ‘Encore’ couldn’t be any more apt as a title, for the reader is left craving for much, much more from this exciting young talent. Opening with the four-part title-piece, James comments upon the changing seasons without further ado (‘I am a guest at nature’s costume change’), going on to regulate the beat of ‘A Calmer Child’ with an alternative but no less alluring rhythm: ‘I was a hassock child, kneeling at the altars of faraway trees and galleons, gallivants and glory’. Literally within a minute, James eloquently transports all those willing to read and reflect on his entrancing train of thought, his reality-rooted flight of fancy.
‘Expanding Borders’ boasts a volley of superb lines (consider the oft-repeated chorus-line ‘A twenty-year-old’s expanding borders are not of outstanding order’ for instance), while the genius of ‘For Ireland’ – a personal favourite – reveals itself with a startling succession of perfectly conceived line-breaks, leaving ‘the flame of the wordsmith, silent, exiled’. The questioning nature of ‘Digested Read’ (‘The pointless comet hurtles closer’) looks towards ‘Lost Brothers’, the latter piece a beautiful poem in which James unleashes his anger at the speed of time’s indifferent passing. Indeed, ‘Where does life go and when does it come around again, to make hours happy?’
‘Lucidity I’ (‘I wore his garb to advise myself to cut my love’) runs into James as he expertly details a detached encounter with his own conscience. For those folk hopelessly hankering after love-leaning poetry, ‘Remind You’ proffers terse observations about love and its associated fallout, maturely acknowledging ‘the river of guttural instinct’. ‘Photos in the Sun’ proves equally as pensive, before the deliciously dark thrum of ‘Mud Money’ (‘Cigarette fugues and blackened teeth speak for bodies in the ground’) leads readers towards the insightful mastery of ‘OCD’.
Few poems are as poignant as the purposefully misspelt ‘Wntr’ (‘Their wrinkled laughs don’t tell of autumn or age – just wisdom’) which revolves around an aged couple unwittingly approaching the inevitable, yet the crafty arrangement of ‘Trampoline’ imprints the most impact, its cliffhanger of an ending proving delightful as opposed to frustrating.
In spite of having spent so much time on Merseyside and in Yorkshire (he’s in the midst of undertaking a degree in Leeds), James often alludes to America in his writing, yet his style remains distinctly British, the quality of language artistically framing his output in both time and place. Splurges of his poems closely resemble song lyrics, yet the deep and meaningful nature of all that’s conveyed elevates every aspect of the content, not least because all manner of themes are embraced. Luring readers into his world, James uses vivid description to his advantage, regardless of whether he’s muscling through disdainful reality, or his fantastical imagination.
If one didn’t know that he’s in his early twenties, it certainly wouldn’t be obvious to the casual poetry consumer. The manner in which sentences flow and stories emerge speaks volumes about James’s ability to capture moments and distill emotions. What’s more, his work manages to be as true-to-life as it is fiendishly surreal, the idealistic ‘I Imagine’ (‘I imagine arid deserts that heighten the glory of the saviour, the oasis…’) sharply contrasting with the textured flavour of ‘Tangible’. Evidently – and understandably – confident about his way with words, James is teetering on the verge of a glittering literary career. Remember where you heard his name first.