Please enjoy the following review of Robert Nisbet’s new chapbook, “Robeson, Fitzgerald and Other Heroes.” Co-editor Ryn Holmes examines Robert’s strong sense of place and how he examines the richness that a lesser mind may have overlooked. We hope you will take a closer look at Robert’s work!
(This is our third chapbook review. We plan to review a new chapbook between each issue of Panoply.)
Published by Prole Books
(Robert offers you purchase from him directly for $10 including postage.)
Submitted by Ryn Holmes
It is a very good sign when an author has successfully embedded a reader into the place setting right off and also encouraged them to become quickly invested in the characters. In Robert Nisbet’s chapbook, Robeson, Fitzgerald and Other Heroes, the author has done exactly that.
When I read Robert’s chapbook of poetry, Merlin’s Lane, it was clear he brought to it all he had invested in his first love, prose. Now, with Robeson, Fitzgerald and Other Heroes, his Celtic inheritance as a Welshman – a natural gift for language, rich characterization and mise en scène – is on display in this his latest collection. This time, however, he has gone even further and risen above what might have been only a pleasant memento by expanding his talent with an enhanced vision that brought him to a new level of sophistication and also brought the reader from the local to a universal experience.
Robert reaches across time, going from youth to maturity, as only someone who has gathered a basketful of experiences is able to do. His great fondness for his locale is without mawkish sentimentality, bringing in all its charm and innocence, lust and romance of the villagers. For instance, in his second poem, The Ella Fitzgerald Song Book, he writes of a happy man’s fond return to his small village:
“…He breakfasts now in wild kite
land, lingers, loves the satiety,
his eggs now bundled in the one,
the only basket, there, on that wondrous
Further on, in the opening of Circles, he shows the depth of his sensitivity to the environment and the tunings of a human heart along with an ability to render the essence of personality with precision.
as the beach’s sand and shingle are lit
by the rays of an afternoon sun.
The girl, her shoulders turned slightly in on herself,
walks slowly to the shore. She might almost be keening….”
That Robert has talent is without doubt, yet in lesser hands the strong psychological and emotional aspects of his writing may interfere, causing the reader to give short shrift to a skillful craft on full display. His empathy toward his fellow villager is kind with an occasional note of whimsy. He is not without careful humor and his keen attention to detail is marvelous as seen in the narrative piece, Life Drawing.
“…Her pose, by chance or plan, is pensive. As she sits, her buttock cheeks are squashed out wide. One lock of straying hair, a mix of grey and brown, flops forward…Her face is grained, it has an outdoor look, she’s been a farm girl, has those hefty legs. Her breasts might once have drawn their share of admiration’s glimpse…She still retains a decent belly, she’s not fat, two operations scars still faintly blue above her bush….”
And further on, in Stripping,
“…The aunt, …possessed by some pack of her heart’s demons
and baring , in her struggle,
the yellowing belly and the sad sparse fuzz….”
Eventually, Robert reveals the depth of his romantic nature and leads us to several pieces concerning love in its many guises. I have deliberately chosen several as examples of his sympathy and understanding.
Beginning with Heartbeat, we feel the unrequited longing for another from whom one is separated by distance, is palpable:
“I was in that village, away from you two years….
…I was aware, I swear I was, of your distant heartbeat….
…I even knew the tenor of your afternoons….”
Or another about love of a different kind, the shy attraction of the protagonist to one she has never met, A Sudden Summer Sun on St. Bride’s Bay (note the title’s lovely alliteration):
“…she peels her way
through the spider-written letter
from the boy from France….
… If I cannot become to see you this August,
my summer, he will be ruined
and she flowers, and walks,…
…feeling herself a mademoiselle,
a mannequin, a belle.”
Now, we segue to a seasoned, comfortable connection between two people in Pilgrimage:
“In love in the gently respectful way
some people have….
…they’d drive on Boxing Day, two hundred miles
…to the headland they’d known in youth….”
And finally, An Evening the Colour of Rain, is remarkable for the words hand-picked to play out an interlude in 8 lines.
Here, former friends (with history) find themselves in the same place at the same time and effect a reunion:
“…Then Greg met Sue again, it was twelve years now
(there was history there, undecidedness)
but they skirted the fringes of each other’s tenderness
(memories recurring and looming)
There were wonderings and hoverings
possibilities dancing, dancing
then bedding with affection’s rain
into the soil of place….”
Fittingly, Robert ends with a poignant poem about writing that takes place in different decades. It reveals the intense love of a young writer for his craft juxtaposed with the remote possibility of anybody ever reading or understanding it. But as you shall see, one reader shall make all the difference in A Calendar for 1970:
“As he wrote his last batch of stories,
and nineteen-seventy’s early months
spread into spring, above his writing
desk there stood an orange lamp, its shade
just slightly charred, and a pictorial
…In twenty-ten, the book
sits on various shelves. Last year three were
sold, two on eBay, one to a young librarian,…
one to a man who found it in a car boot sale in
Banbury, read it that night, and felt…the very
net and crowd of feelings
that the author felt, those years ago,
under that calendar, under that lamp.”
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and it was a pleasure to review. As a reader, I did find that the names and place titles written in Cymraeg may tend to break the flow for anyone unschooled in speaking or reading that language if one has to stop and look up a translation. This was a small price to pay, however, to be able to read these poems.
Robert Nisbet is a Welsh poet who has published widely in Britain and the USA. He was shortlisted in 2017 for the Wordsworth Trust Prize.