Sax Burglar Blues

Robert Walton
Publication Date: 
Tuesday, October 31, 2017
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‘Rippled through with uncommon beauty’ – SkyLightRain


The poems in Robert Walton’s Sax Burglar Blues range from vivid memories of childhood, such as  ‘Twm Siôn Cati’ where a teacher ‘wiry-haired, fierce-eyed’ brings a fictional villain to life, banging out rhythms with her shoe on the floor of a Cardiff classroom, to memories of a rock‘n’roll influenced youth on the back of the Dusty Springfield night bus, or an archetypal narrative of getting kicked out of a band just before they hit the big time (‘Three Out of Four Original Members’).

Walton is also possessed of (and by) a keen socio-political sensibility, which takes aim via pointed satire, quite literally in the downright fury of ‘Closing Down’ in which the narrator fantasizes pulling a gun on the retail staff who discount all the potential profit away from books (a vision that all of us who retail the word will understand). There is also the surreal lampoon of his canary Joey’s candidacy for the presidency.

But there is further room in this full life for art. There is a lovely poem inspired by a Sisley painting of Langland Bay, Swansea, where the sky is a ‘violet softness between the clouds’.  There is a sharp description of the famously sardonic and iconoclastic Welsh poet John Tripp, with his ‘peregrine eye’.  In the title poem and the marvellous ‘Man with a Double Bass on His Back’ the pleasing complexity of jazz mirrors the poet’s vocation to embody, to echo and reverberate, the complexities of lived experience. There is also a real feeling for the natural world in these poems, as seen in the precise and elegant ‘Ash’ with buds like ‘black jewels clustered on every branch/of its platinum February crown.’  

As befits a poet born and based on the Severn Estuary, his land and townscapes are often damp, misty, watery, and recorded with many subtle variations of blue. There are also pleasingly unlikely totem animals: the career of woodlice, and, seen with a mordant wit, the donkeys in ‘Sanctuaries’ that have ‘cantilevered necks, muzzles scrunched in straw' and a nod to the myth of the man-eating crocodile that infests Bristol Docks. 

But there are also poems about cars, churches and blackberries in in this book, pointing to its refusal to be quite one thing or another, to the artful, expansive range of this not new, but newly revived author.



Review by Judy Darley, SkyLightRain

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

A verve for life rollicks beneath the poems in Robert Walton’s first collection for Seren. Pinned to the page, they jostle in place – I have the impression of them being eager to flurry off downstream, seeking new sights and new adventures.

Perhaps it’s the tumult of years inside them that’s caused this. Walton’s debut came out in 1978, and while the intervening years included plenty of publications of individual poems and even a chapbook, this, emerging 39 years later, is the second full book from the accomplished poet.

Walton refers to the expanse of time as an effort of procrastination, but I suspect his delight in actually living, rather than pondering, is part of the reason for the lengthy gap.

His appetite for the world ensures even the most ordinary sighting can be reconfigured, and through Walton’s eyes, a man with a double bass on his back becomes a Kafka-esque “armour-plated coleoptera.”

Elsewhere, an evening’s ironing is laced with tenderness and grace. Memories redrafted are rippled through with uncommon beauty, as a teacher’s words transform into “red kites playing the thermals over the Teifi.”

Humour shines throughout, making the moments of poignancy all the more striking. In ‘The Only Medicine’ we meet his powerhouse Nanna. Elsewhere we get more of an insight into his own inner life. In ‘Man and Boy’, an utter sense of comfort and safety surfaces, while in ‘Up the Bluebirds!’, an effort to please is revealed through the simple detail of a scarf that: “lies folded in the dark.’

I’m pretty sure there’s a double-meaning on the word lie – a child’s treachery perhaps built on the love of and for his father. There’s a subtle shame behind the subterfuge, but also a faint self-mockery, not for failing to gain a fanaticism for football, for so yearning to do so. Walton is a man riddled with self-awareness, in both senses of the word, and blessed with an ability to take himself admirably lightly. Just as he sees the glory in everyday occurrences, he recognises the qualities in the paths he’s chosen, and of those he’s turned from.

There’s a fondness for those distant paths, however, which shines up brief flashes of appreciation into something powerful enough to stop you in your tracks. Under Robert’s gaze, the world is full of wonder.

This is never more apparent than in his beautifully weighted poem ‘Greenland’, in which the scope widens then narrows with breathtaking skill as we take in a snowbound steppe that was once pulsed with life. Robert gathers us up in his wings and swoops inwards to deposit us into a moment of dizzying intimacy, beside the white pillow where his mother’s head rests and he is willing her eyes to open.


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