I’m pretty sure that at least some of the poems in K.M. Dersley’s new “Paranoid in Paradise” are not particularly new. It doesn’t take great detective work to figure this out, because some of the magazines the poems first showed up in are now a part of literary history. I also remember reading them before, whenever. So I’m a little intrigued by the appearance of this little chapbook, because it seems to be recovering some ground. The Derz’s last book, which I reviewed here, struck me as having a change in emphasis, if not a wholesale change in direction, and albeit not a big change; does this new collection say something about another change, back to where he came from? Damned if I know. I could ask him, because he’s a friend, but I’d rather just enjoy the poems. Maybe he just wants to get some older poems back out into the air; nothing wrong with that at all.
Over the years, I’ve written about Dersley a few times. In an afterword to his “Clapgate Terraces” back in 1995, I wrote
“As someone remarked recently, if what you’ve got to say is crappy, then your poetry will be crappy, however well-crafted it might be. Conversely, when what you’ve got to say is worth saying, the air around you when you speak makes for better breathing. People like to listen, and they like to listen especially to someone who bears a passing resemblance to a human being. Poetry is the most important thing in the world, at the same time as it is the most unimportant thing in the world; KM knows how holy the poem is, how brilliant it is to be able to write poems and see them off outdoors to slug it out with the thugs and the angels, but he would never speak of the poem in hushed and reverent tones, which is one reason why some of the people who come out of Clapgate Terraces understand him and listen to the way he writes about his life.”
And most of what I would say now about these poems is exactly that. Only Dersley could come up with
tonight I intend
to walk into that cinema
laugh until my sides
then go to a party
get two or three Guinnesses down
and start acting like Tom Mix
(when you love a girl
you give her
everything you’ve got.
it’s not enough.
you have to give her
what you haven’t got as well.
you can ask me, because I know:
these lines will translate
without much loss of meaning
into most of the
(from “The Looks of Billy The Kid”)
I may not be a particularly nice
but what niceness there is
is my own
and I don’t intend to let you
or any woman
shoot it full of holes.
(from “I Cannot Love The Deserving”)
I’ve said before and I’ll say it again: Dersley’s style and voice is not for everyone. His habit of running stuff like the “outside shite-houses which well and truly belonged to ancient Ipswich” into the same breath as his declaration of having “one or two things printed in thin magazines amid clouds of dust in the churning mills of the Muse” would strike some as a pose or a falsehood or, just as likely if not more so, not what poetry should be. Well, fuck them. The Derz is a one-off, always has been and always will be, and the fact that he knows his craft and can write and celebrate life, his life, in all its marvellous ordinariness and moments of remarkable joy – well actually I don’t know what’s better. There’s plenty that’s different, but don’t tell me they’re any better.
["Paranoia in Paradise" is published by Appliance Books and can be ordered from The Ragged Edge]