Some months back I noted Katy Evans-Bush’s “appearance” on Jilly Dybka’s Poetry Hut Blog as an innovation: a virtual author’s tour. Here I just want to add that because of her interview, I ordered a copy of her first collection, Me and the Dead, which I heartily recommend.
Evans-Bush, born in America but a long-time resident of England, has a musician’s ear for cadence and the skill to make jazzy turns within and among lines:
Bells, like voices, open round and clear.
Like life they’ll paralyse you with their din.
Like steel cables they tense and draw you in.
They ring what you don’t think you want to hear.
Lovely, but not uncommonly so. It’s when she shifts from this tintillating (sic) recreation of bell sounds that we find she’s not just another pretty versifier. Here are the next few lines, which appear after a dingbat-denoted break that sets off the foregoing sound effects from the rest of the poem:
In this noise the call to God? No: church,
the daily manifest, the nuthouse scrawl
we proffer in the face of the sublime,
sublime itself our febrile definition
of those bells.
Now, see from this perspective:
a cobbled yard, its cracks grown through with grass,
set with chairs and tables, set with girls
in after-work groups drinking Chardonnay,
five feet lower than the Cathedral’s ground.
Hidden at elbow-level in the earth
lie our silent companions—monks and priests
now rotted to bone, a millennium deeper in.
We sit in the street of a city they’d forgotten,
except for the Latin of their liturgy:
that old hub of the wheel, Londinium.
This shift from the musical to the pictorial—from Tennyson to Larkin, maybe—indicates something of Evans-Bush’s range, but “The Cathedral” falters toward the end because one of her greatest strengths is missing from it: a wicked sense of humor.
How wicked? Here’s an example—the voice Eliot would have sneered at, but one Evans-Bush respects and renders with care:
You can’t get more than five feet in this gaff
without running into some bleedin’ tosser
Trevor used to do the rounds with.
Today it was this bloke, who just came
back from LA, with a ropy accent
and toomiuch bleach in his hair. I swear
he never stopped looking. Up, down, up,
down: all eyes and no trousers, ‘e was.
So Trev, you know what I mean, he’s jealous.
You eyein’ my bird? Starts winding him up.
Hey Alfie, make much dosh, didja?
But the geezer goes—you what? I’m loaded,
even my skinflint guv’nor ‘ad us
rakin’ it in like bleedin’ Chrismas!
He’s on about a Cadillac.
He says they paid to get it shipped
to a garage in Leyton, he says it’s red.
This, as Evans-Bush notes, is “after Catullus X”—that is, it answers Catullus, whose poem 10 gives us the geezers point of view (here in Peter Green’s wonderful translation):
My friend Varus saw me lounging in the Forum,
dragged me off with him to meet his girlfriend.
“Little scrubber” was my first impression—
not unsmart, though, not entirely witless.
The evident pleasure Evans-Bush takes in giving a feminist voice to the “little scrubber” makes “East Ten” especially delightful, not least because we realize at the end that the entire poem is her statement to a police investigator looking into what became of Trevor.
Most of the humor in Me and the Dead is darker, though, and richer. And I won’t try to describe it, or drag in Sylvia Plath and Carol Ann Duffy to explain it away (she has absorbed these two influences and turned them to her own purposes). Suffice it to say that Evans-Bush is a strong poet with a serious future in this bailiwick.