views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Let's Love, Let's Kill, Let's Wait and Wonder
The Sheephaven Bay
4th August 2013


Graham Buchan

Photography supplied by Graham Buchan

I admit I'm struggling here. It's not just because analysing and assessing poetry doesn't come as naturally to me as mouthing off about miscasting or dropping in references to John Colton, James Cameron and Jesus Christ (Superstar). It's also because I found Graham Buchan's work so affecting and inspired that I feel I might damage it with some sort of over-ponderousness or do them a disservice with analysis. My only hope is that he doesn't read this and tut. The frankly too brief evening is yours to discover, not mine to dictate.

I worry that he does tut due to his earnest demeanour. Nothing wrong with that, Buchan's dry, incisive and spiky persona is one of a poet but without going as so far as to be satirical. He's honest, we're honest, and we're here to enjoy. Accompanied by Angela Jung on violin - breaking up the poetry in the places you don't expect, but certainly the places that feel right - he launches into some 30 poems, rhyming, freeform, long and short, that provide you with a fantastical sugar rush of pick-and-mix that, as all good snacks do, leave you with vertiginous highs and crashing depths.

The evening, as you will hopefully see, is at once Ronseal, romantic and raging. It does exactly what it says on the tin, covering the main aspects of human experience - relationships, death, inertia and dreaming - in a way that all marries together. His romanticism isn't always with a capital R - certainly Larkin wasn't far from my mind. But neither was Keats, with haunting, bittersweet and dreamy turns of phrase in Aeroplane or Cheeky Little Spaceship. Not that anything was as single-mindedly epic as Hyperion, rather just snapshots of influences.

The raging, unsurprisingly, came from the Let's Kill in the title. They're Hanging the Nazis (superbly bridged by his Let's Love poem Your Beauty Hangs in Music) was a haunting, blackly humorous children's nursery rhyme. Opening the segment of death, seemingly questioning the fairness in the killing of those we find abhorrent, was a bold move.

Graham Buchan

Photography supplied by Graham Buchan

It was one that built and built with the clipped, striking Sylvia's Loss, brutal Torture and an odd glimpse into apparent self-doubt of Voronezh. In prefacing this poem of Russian political dissidents and reciting the piece, there seemed a self-awareness. An idea that poetry was a beast that fed on misery, mystery and leads to a death blacker than both.

As in love and death, Buchan waves his - ahem - magic wand over wonder, from a very scientific head. Montaigne's Cat highlights and hints at the rest of the set. The reference to the famous French skeptic is wondrous, with the cheeky nod to Schrodinger as he goes on to cement philosophy, science and emotion on all the same level. We wonder not about gods or angels, but about photons or life on other planets. The Sound Beyond the Dune is an exception, speaking of a mermaid, but the sensibility lies behind it.

As noted, his poetry is pierced in five places by some violins. And while the choices are incredibly apt - the elegant yet heartbreaking Gardel Tango por una cabeza or spectral Bach Sonata No 1 - they sometimes go on too long. It should be said Jung is a master of the violin, there is very little to argue there, but momentum is lost with the music chosen. We would much rather have eight or nine interludes of shorter time than the five with the longevity.

But really, too much of a good thing isn't enough to even flesh-wound hypnotising poetry with incredible turns of phrase a sharp intent. When serious or comedic, whimsical or wry, Buchan delivers. I just hope I have done him justice.

Let's Love, Let's Kill, Let's Wait and Wonder was first performed on 4th August and will run on 22nd and 23rd August 2013, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Camden Town (Northern)

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