Tuesday, August 12, 2014

book reviews: ken champion's urban narratives and cameo metro

I've been a fan of Ken Champion's work for quite a while now, and have enjoyed his collected stories and poems in these two publications. The titles and cover photos alone tell you quite a lot about his themes and images.

In Urban Narratives, the compelling descriptions of (mostly) urban landscapes - trains, cafes, parks, streets, graveyards, cinemas, plus kitchens and poetry readings - ground the restlessness and defiance of Ken's characters. This allows him to explore the themes of social mobility, death, relationships, and coping with the unexpected reactions of others:

'she, in a department store, disappearing, and him, unguarded, panicking, intellectually knowing that it was the child in him being left by mummy - no emotions are new'

There are thirty stories in this collection. Around half of them feature the recurring character of James Kent, a psychoanalyst who questions his choice of profession: these are interspersed with stories told from other points of view. My personal favourites were 'The Beat Years' and 'Educating Rita', which could both have had escapist endings for Chris, the narrator, but consciously didn't, which made them all the more authentic.

The beauty of a short story is that it doesn't have to tie up every loose end, and several of the stories contain coincidences that leave us wondering. They often contain hard truths:

'the equation being that if he looked fit and tanned then he wouldn't age, ergo, wouldn't die. It was a subject he'd never studied: the psychology of death.'
(Lay Preacher)

Cameo Metro contains new poems, and poems from Ken's previous collections, African Time (Tall Lighthouse, 2002), Cameo Poly (Tall Lighthouse, 2004), and But Black and White is Better (Tall Lighthouse, 2008). There are six sections, each on a different theme: City, African, Retro, Americana, Theatre, and Rewind. Ken is very good at writing about frustration and broken promises, often with dark humour, and this is a poet who understands the value of phrasing, especially how to use punctuation, line endings, and enjambment to increase tension.

I'm already looking forward to Ken's new publication.

Ken Champion, Urban Narratives, The Penniless Press, Preston, 2013.
Ken Champion, Cameo Metro, The Penniless Press, Preston, 2013.

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