This Love like a Rage without Anger – Bill Lewis.

Reviewed ByMelissa Todd

Melissa Todd reviews Bill Lewis's This Love like a Rage without Anger for The Blue Nib

This Love Like A Rage Without Anger

This Love Like a Rage Without Anger: Poems 1975-2005
Bill Lewis

  • Paperback: 254 pages
  • Publisher: Colony Press (November 30, 2019)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1999694805
  • ISBN-13: 978-1999694807

This Love like a Rage without Anger (the title is both a poem and reference to Bill’s first collection) is a beautiful object of desire. Not simply for its block print cover, which recalls Bill’s early association with the poet and artist Billy Childish, but also because it covers the first twenty-six years of Bill’s writing career.

Despite being a Maidstone boy originally, Bill Lewis is generally associated with the Medway area, partly because of the afore mentioned Childish connection, and also in consequence of the length of time he spent studying at the Medway college of arts and design and observing its surrounding streets,(Best seen in his superb Medway suite, which is included here); its cathedral (“Masons also saw their shape sleeping in the stone” he writes in Green Men, composed in Rochester Cathedral; its celebrities (both Childish and the Singing Loins are name-checked); but best of all, its rhythms of speech.

Several poems are given over to capturing the Chatham rhythms literally (Gun dan tan eni, School Story and  North Kent English Lesson) but also spiritually, (Six things my mother said, Headlines, Two Skinheads on Chatham Hill). I wish he’d included Seven Things Overheard on Chatham High Street, one of my favourites, laid out on the page like pronouncements from the Buddha (“As I told her straight, you aint ugly enough to be beautiful.”) He has a skill for writing humorous poems about people without ever making fun of them; a rare and impressive skill.

The book has several themed sections. Despite trying to live on a poet’s earnings, other, more regular, sources of income sometimes needed to be sought: these he utilises in full by seeing his minimum wage duties through a poet’s eye. He covers his time working as a porter in West Kent General Hospital in the late 70s and early 80s, and these poems are flavoured with a sense of an astonished onlooker, reminiscent of the narrative voice in One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Here we meet a man who ate a live pigeon; another whose x-ray reveals “pieces of light bulb glass and filaments”.

Other sections include one containing two bear poems (For winter read: death. Spring brings a resurrection of bears); three coyote poems – the coyote has been re-imagined and used metaphorically, already a mythical creature common to many cultures of the indigenous people of North America; ten fox poems, and, particularly, impressive, the Americas – Lewis spent three months in Nicaragua in 1989. Something about his engagement with Hispanic culture seemed to enable him to find his truest voice. There is a wonderful poem entitled The Entry of Christ into the USA, the title of which echoes Adrian Henri’s poem and painting The Entry of Christ into Liverpool – which in itself echoed James Ensor’s painting The Entry of Christ into Brussels in 1889. Lewis is very aware of his heritage and his place within it.

There’s a selection of prose pieces at the back of the book, while elsewhere there’s a scattering of haiku – “The soul of a child is silver/Mountain bike shaped/with 24 gears” is a favourite; gnomic verse – the circular poem “Love that is not dangerous is not really love that is not….” etc, swirling enticingly on the page, is particularly powerful; while beautifully expressed observations are littered throughout, in every form. Lewis allows the subject matter to dictate the style and has a huge variety at his disposal. In Bring me the Moustache of Gabriel Garcia Marquez he makes this comment, on reading Don Quixote, many years before. “I need a special kind of bookmark because I am rereading Don Quixote and I am not the same person as I was when I last read it”, or the beautifully drawn Hobohemian of the poem of the same name, who wears a “Homburg in Hamberg”, is “baroque by night” and “all my women friends fall in love with her.”

The moon holds a special place in Lewis’ work. It’s a “cold 10 pence” in Trains of Thought; “kept tied like a helium balloon” in Desire, harbouring “Ghosts on the Dark Side” in Winter, while in Shadow Dog it’s a “Dial marking the hour.” It often seems to function as a metaphor for Lewis’ sensuality, for his visceral engagement with life, feisty, forceful, a frenzied passion that leaves you almost exhausted at the close. It’s at its most robust and present in Fig – “The man had been a very strong and muscular piece of prose but the serpent had been poetry”. Lewis’ own poetry throbs with life, marching onwards to face whatever may come for hm. 

As Lewis phrases it – It hurts so good to be alive.