A portable paradise by Roger Robinson
Paperback: 82 pages
Publisher: Peepal Tree Press (8 July 2019)
Roger Robinson only appeared on my radar after he became the surprise winner of the T.S. Eliot prize, and I have no doubt that many others discovered him in the same way. I have since gotten hold of his earlier collection, The Butterfly Hotel and it is sitting ready to be read, I have also ordered his less known Suckle but deliveries from Amazon are still painfully slow.
A Portable Paradise is for its most part community-based, plain speaking and unremittingly starkly, it will move you, indeed it will rock your world with is often surreal imagery.
The collection is thematic in as far as it deals with The Grenfell disaster first, then with encounters with racism both current and historic, and then there is a section that seemed off kilter (more below) that deals with a mix of issues.
Some of the poems in the collection are dedicated to individuals and others are inspired by the work of other writers, some are ekphrastic and look at art in a whole new way. And then—there is that section that deals with a mix of issues including Robinson’s son, religion and various other bits and pieces that give the impression of fill and don’t sit comfortably alongside the larger themes.
I was sorry that this section was included in what is a wonderful work. My beef is not about the quality of the poetry, that is all wonderful. Indeed this off kilter section contains some of my favourite individual poems. No, my argument (minor) it that a collection that had an intense sense of direction, seemed to go off the rails here and I was suddenly lost. (really a minor gripe, and do not let it put you off)
Robinson picked an exceptional title poem in A Portable Paradise.
And if I speak of Paradise,
then I’m speaking of my grandmother
who told me to carry it always
on my person, concealed, so
no one else would know but me.
That way they can’t steal it, she’d say.
And if life puts you under pressure,
trace its ridges in your pocket,
smell its piney scent on your handkerchief,
hum its anthem under your breath.
And if your stresses are sustained and daily,
get yourself to an empty room – be it hotel,
hostel or hovel – find a lamp
and empty your paradise onto a desk:
your white sands, green hills and fresh fish.
Shine the lamp on it like the fresh hope
of morning, and keep staring at it till you sleep.
Other exceptional poems include the opening poem, The Missing which is an enduring epitaph to the unrecovered of Grenfell.
And Paradise, a poem that abuts The Missing and is equally powerful.
I chose to include video in this review, because hearing the poet read the work, brings the listener to a new level of awareness.
The opening sections of the book, contains the poems that this collection will be remembered for and justly so.
“Citizen I-III” – is a set of three poems that speak to the experience of immigrants from Commonwealth territories, those that were obliged to provide proof of their right of residency. This section within a section is dedicated to Poet, Zena Edwards who, along with her family, experience this indignity first hand. There is much in this work that made me intensely and uncomfortably aware of my own white privilege, and despite my minor gripe about the dodgy section, A Portable Paradise is beautiful, harrowing, memorable and unforgiving, this is a collection I will return to again and again. Order it, it is worth much more than its very reasonable price tag of £10.00