Ruth Padel - Independent on Sunday
Neil Rollinson's Spanish Fly plunders the image-bank of science. His poems ring with compassionate wonder at the universe;
especially sex, which has led them to places other poems rarely reach.
On the TV show The Good Sex Guide, the producer wants the poet
to cut a poem.
"We can't have words like that in the show".
(Visuals, yes; words, no.) "We have our advertisers to consider."
The poet refuses. "I have my poem to consider." As he watches
I think about the perverts
up this late, sofa bound, cock in hand,
waiting for the big one, and finding just
But there's no "just" about it. This poetry is hilarious, watchful,
profound and sharp about the world it comes from, and plays to.
Alan Brownjohn - Sunday Times
Leaving to novelists the task of understanding that belt of present day urban
England in which sex, beer and football appear to be the only reasons for
living would not have been right. Poets need to have a say on this; and today
a clutch of younger talents is proving that poetry can offer equally observant
and regularly more witty and outrageous slants on the phenomenon.
Neil Rollinson's A Spillage of Mercury was tough, explicit and wickedly
clever. In his second book, Spanish Fly, the stories and bizarre
jokes are funnier, his conversion of them into rueful poems that stick in the
memory even more impressive. He delights in spinning fantasies from
ordinary features of modern life: a red line leading to a clinic in a hospital,
the inner-city motorist lying under his car all day, a "special deal" compulsorily wished
on him at a McDonald's: "I offer it to the first guy I find/ in a shop doorway.
He shakes his head. / I haven't touched it, I tell him. / I'm not surprised,
he says ..."
The excursions Rollinson undertakes in Featherlite or Threesome are even more
hilariously bizarre, although perhaps less quotable. Underlying all this
though, is a quality of loneliness and scariness clear in poems such as Neil
Rollinson. (1960 - ), where the hyphen supplied in the index to an anthology is
an "intimation of mortality, / [a] knowing nod to some bleak point in the future".
The football? Here, it is the stark fear in the mind of a player taking the
penalty kick or the eerie, savage ballet of a rained-on late afternoon match.
More weirdly comic is his vision of the man who has bet "a whole month's
wages on a white Christmas". and stands waiting for a : now-flake on the
Weather Centre roof.
Weird, too, but fascinatingly so, is the forgotten fielder
at Deep Third Man who has been absorbed into "the last day of summer, into
memory, and beyond", in effect into "the whole of England".
Justin Quinn. TLS
The Spanish fly of Neil Rollinson's title is the name of a dried beetle which was once considered an aphrodisiac, and it will come as no surprise that this second collection has many poems about sex; also present are the themes of science and drinking. These last are held together by autobiographical anecdote; for instance, in "Half-Life" he tells us that quarks and other sub-atomic particles are just as evanescent as the kisses he gives his lover, and in "Entropy" he observes the universe winding down on a microcosmic level ("Your coffee grows cold on the kitchen table"), concluding by remarking on "your dress that only this morning / was warm to my touch". Science, then, only makes sense to him in so far as he can relate it to love and sex; drinking tales, however, arc their own excuse for being. "The Semis" relates a dart match: after the speaker has clinched the game, he collapses on the floor, "watching the ceiling-rose spin through the smoke, / a prayer wheel, a mandala cured in nicotine."
"The Semis" demonstrates Rollinson's central technique: the piling up of whimsical metaphor with a tone of languorous pleasure. The mandala is suggestive of states of spiritual revelation, and the nicotine cure is an amusing fillip to conclude the account. It is reminiscent of the Martians, but the general trajectory of Rollinson's poems never surprises as theirs did. Moreover, the metaphors are employed to drive home the most self-regarding remarks. The nadir is perhaps "The Mile High Club", in which he professes himself too scared of flying to make out in mid-air. He concludes: "And anyway, what could feel / as good as this, touching down with a jolt, / on terra firma, the weight of gravity / like an arm around your shoulder, that feeling that you've got away with it, / that you've got away with your life." These lines, as with the whole collection, are only of note if the reader is as interested in Rollinson's life as he is himself. Exceptionally, the lineation here sits more or less snugly with the phrasing; elsewhere it is arbitrary. Also worth noting is how tonally and idiomatically slack these lines are, and when not managing to turn on the metaphorical style, Rollinson resorts to cliche (like the "skinful of beer" in "The Semis"). Most of these poems tell small ambiguous stories, whose provenance is clearly proclaimed in the book's apparatus of epigraph and dedication: Charles Simic, Matthew Sweeney and others. Sweeney and Simic at their best make the medium crackle, but even they are having difficulties now stringing it out into middle and late career; their method of surprise has become a programme. In the hands of a follower like Rollinson, the results are weak as well as predictable.
Janet Philips: Poetry Review
....a…new, philosophical mood prevails in the elegant poems about thermodynamics and sub atomic particles. 'Entropy' observes the second law of thermodynamics in the discarded objects inside an ordinary house: 'Your coffee grows cold on th kitchen table / which means the universe is dying'. We move from domestic detail to the sun, slowly consuming its fuel and a sense of the universe slipping away. 'Half-life' is similarly soaked in melancholy for the inexorable disappearance of things and people. In a kind of polar opposite to Donne's conceit in 'The Good Morrow' two lovers hand each other sub-atomic particles - with beautifu delicate names: ‘meson', ‘pion', ‘muon' -which vanish before they are received. This ability to visualise the invisible is also on display in the stunning poem 'Long Exposure': "you think of photon falling / invisibly onto the stock, like snow on a pond, infinitesimal quanta of light fixing the landscape" There are more "science bits" scattered throughou the book, notably 'Santa Claus as Macroscopic Quantum Object Delivers His Presents on Time, which is funny and clever, and bang up to date on kids' presents: Nintendos, mobile phones. Humour is also prominent in the "filthy"(Rollinson's term) poems in the collection, especially 'The Good Sex Guide' and 'French'. In 'French', yes, you guessed right, a pupil is seduced by his French tutor against a backdrop which comically pinpoints the decade: a Grateful Dead poster adorns the wall, they listen to 'Tubular Bells', she wears nothing but Dr Martens... In 'The Good Sex Guide' Toyah Wilcox (the presenter of the TV programme) has to fight for the inclusion of an entire Rollinson poem which is threatened with censorship, even though a sado-masochist is promised for later on. Toyah "thinks my poems / empower women" - well, be that as it may, but I enjoy the women's fantastic control of the erotic in these poems, from the one who demands to be scissored out of her clothes ('Fruit'), to Maureen the voyeur, who stands "like a wrinkled / Venus risen from her flowery gown" (Threesome').
Robert Potts. Guardian
Neil Rollinson's second collection of poetry consists almost entirely of descriptive and anecdotal pieces about personal and dornestic topics.
He has sex, or a curry; he is in the supermarket, or on the tube; he buys
a burger, or gives a poetry reading. To these topics he brings predictable
adjectives and stock metaphors. "Pudding” , a centro of Mills and Boon
cliches, misfires slightly, since its style is not so very different from Rollinson's
own. Here, for example, is Rollinson on curry: "I scour the menu for the most incendiary dish: / chicken jalfrezi, prawn vindaloo/ or mutton phall,
blind to the bhunas/and kormas, the sag aloos and brinjal bahjis [sic]”
The line breaks, one notes, could go anywhere. Yes, there is as much
poetry in the menu of your local tandoori as there is in Spanish Fly.
Carol Rumens. Poetry London
Rollinson is a deeply self-conscious writer with an assured technique. The first poem in Spanish Fly contains a parable about the necessity of certain kinds of knowingness and innocence. "You" (this poem, like the other sports-piece, "The Semis" is punchily cast in the colloquial vocative) "take a run. You are running all day/ and night. When you get to the ball/ you are weak with the effort./ You swing your leg, your foot/ finds what you think is a perfect purchase,/ the crowd goes wild, they rise in a wave/ behind the goal. You watch the ball-/ You can't believe where it goes." ("The Penalty")
Rollinson knows all about the understated ending that invites the reader to fill in the missing frisson, in this case, to "spot the ball." But, though we might enjoy hovering with our biros here, the frisson really is there in front of us, stated: "You can't believe where it goes." The whole dream and purpose of footballer and poet must be to get absolute control of the ball, but it is the fact that the control can't possibly be absolute that gives thrill and meaning to our
sport. And for the poet, there is the added goal-factor: the one you get may not be the one you intended, but it may be a better one.
"The Penalty" is technically superb. Look at the varieties of caesura in the lines quoted. Rollinson knows all about the uses of silence in a poem: he has studied the subtle gradation between stop and comma, dash and line-break. His narrative line is always clear, but at the same time its turns are unpredictable and dramatic. The poems themselves are like little football pitches, in that they are almost always all of a piece, through-composed, a single field. And his syntax dances over the pitch with the wiliness and flexibility of an expert player. If he sometimes plays to the crowd we perhaps should indulge him because he's good and even joyously good at times.
Where our indulgence might run out is when we see him over-relying on, or misjudging, a quality I can only call charm. A sociable tone of voice, a likeable candour, charm is deployed with marvellous slyness sometimes: in the poems using scientific concepts, for example, it seals a kiss between the homely and the intractable (see the truly delightful "Santa Claus as Macroscopic Quantum Object Delivers his Presents On Time.") But it can be too pleased with itself, as in "Masquerade", in which the speaker-writer boosts his career by taking on the identities of his fellow poets ("In Katowice I make a passable Kate Clanchy"). Even as I smiled at the "conceit", the poem annoyed me, and I think might annoy me just as much if I were in it: it struck me as cute and yes, a little too knowing and networkfriendly. Perhaps Rollinson is showing the pressure on a young English male poet at the present time, consciously staking out a patch, choosing a pitch: this boy (he decides) should be streetwise, but not a hood, a lad but not as loud as some of them: he's not planning mayhem as he stares in that video shop window, just combing his hair before meeting his next reader. He's not innocent. On the other hand, few male poets have written about their physical lives-fucking, eating, drinking, playing darts, etc.-with such innocent relish. John Keats, thou shouldn't be living.