Cards on the Table
Ranging from quick-fire questions for us to ponder to provocative longer works drawing on classical themes, this highly entertaining collection will surprise and inspire with its wit and honesty.
Lean, yet vivid, Jeremy Robert’s style can be sensuous, graphic or outspoken. He weaves in and out around Pop Culture icons such as James Dean & Andy Warhol, as well as making irreverent commentaries on Kiwi culture.
From ‘seeking answers’ in Auckland’s Western park to hanging out with crazies at LA’s Venice Beach, Roberts articulates with truth and honesty during his journey of discovery.
Roberts does more than put his cards on the table – he lines up his targets and then hammers the poetic nails in.
ISBN 9781925231113 (PB, 157pp);
|AUD $26||USD $18||NZD $27||GBP £12||EUR €14|
|ISBN 9781925231120 (eBook)||AUD $13||USD $10||NZD $15||GBP £6||EUR €7|
Cards on the Table is Jeremy Roberts’ first collection of poetry. His book is packed with poetry that is outspoken, often pugnacious, clearly it is meant to be performed – and he is described, on the back cover, as a performance poet. This poet looks at the world irreverently, expressing strong opinions on subjects such as materialism and terrorism, thus it comes as a surprise in what seems at first to be a strident book when he is also tender, and sometimes profound, about the everyday.
In “Money $hot” we read: ‘the celebration of the buck / is alive everywhere -// in the penthouses & caves,/ school & work/ fucking,/ & in the bugle call of every country.// money -/ is a soul-balm which kicks religion’s ass/ right out of the spiritual park!’ In “White napkins” he writes cynically about: ‘what life is now – waiting for texts & drinking/ expensive coffee…’
Contrast the above with excerpts from “Waiting to see Iggy & the Stooges”: ‘three young women// … in summer dresses & sandals/ were dancing in a field// …in licking, light blue/ rain… & though so many things/ lay waiting on the path ahead -/ so many/ many things// it seemed nothing was hiding from them/ that afternoon.” And “The Missing Child”: ‘a father’s lesson.// I think it worked like this:// I gave you my version of the world -/ which you slowly no longer needed…// which is how it should be.// you grew into yourself’. There is gentleness, no pugnacity, in these words.
Titles such as “Bomb the Poetry Factories”, “Surf Nazis”, “Cyanide Love” and “Green Bluez” might give the book a distinctive rock flavour but there is such a mixture of material that it cannot be branded as such. It is a huge feast of poetry, a smorgasbord, a varied selection to choose from which does include the music scene. We get a look at all aspects of life through the eyes of an observant performance poet and musician.
Roberts is also well-travelled and presents to his readers a particular, clear picture, giving a very good sense of place. In “Irish Bar in Takapuna” we can almost smell the Guinness whilst: ‘here/ the bow sweeps across the fiddle/ & an accordion squeezes/ out the tears – ’.
“Kemang Raya Walk” places us firmly in Indonesia, walking through streets, with flashed details in list form: ‘…steaming blue smoke -/ flower stalls, motorbike babies, rotting rubbish,/ orange & black bajajs, oversize Stupid Ugly Vehicles/ & 3rd dead rat of week – nicely squashed: guts squeezed out -/ like the poor here in Indonesia… …crumbled footpath, perfumed dust, street-food &/ carbonated petrol clouds -’. We feel empathy alongside the poet in this poem.
“Lost & Free on a Street in Jakarta” lists again: ‘zigzagging in rain – among strange rubbish, dirt,/ busted concrete, & revving monster motorcycle-mash of/ commuters…’ and brings us to a gentle conclusion with: ‘new doorways/ tickets to shadow plays/ calls to prayer.’
Cards on the Table is not short on humour. “Push It” is one example: ‘I invented a game called/ “Think Up a Punk Band Name”.// I came up with The Rotting Nuns-/ disgusting everyone/…which… ended the game.’ Another is a one-line poem, “Philosophy” which asks: ‘shall we seek Satan’s help when the aliens come?’
Despite the grim subject, and title, “What IXTAB – the Mayan Goddess of Suicide – Whispered to Me”, Roberts presents to his readers, in prose form, a very funny selection if you have, in fact, ‘had enough of life’s windmill of flying fists’.
This is a densely filled book of over one hundred poems; such a collection in one volume is a credit to the poet’s hard work. Here we have many styles, attitudes and emotions – there’s much going on, a lot being expressed, a great deal to notice – and some grouping of poems or section divisions might have been of assistance to the reader. Attempting to read Cards on the Table in one sitting cannot be recommended; it becomes an ambush. Editors and publishers do well to note this and to remember that the reader likes space and a sturdy cover for work that benefits from being picked up and dipped into.
– Elizabeth Coleman, Takahe magazine (New Zealand)
Jeremy Roberts’ poems are prisms refracting spectrums of colour, deep, surprising truths, from the clear light of their subjects. Beautifully formed and musically pitch-perfect, they transport us to landscapes as diverse as Aotearoa, Vietnam and Paris, illuminating the complexities of human interactions, the three-dimensional depth of poetry, and the profundity of famous and infamous performers along the way. To read Cards on the Table is to be reminded of how deep, how life-affirming veracity is manifest in the significant and everyday alike.
– Siobhan Harvey
Jeremy Roberts is a performance poet, a quick-change artist with words, a confessionalist never afraid to let it be personal, a guy who grabs the present moment and makes it sing. In the words of one of his best, he’s ‘permanently temporary’. He knows ‘the Zen of the immediate moment’. Are you tempted to think he’s just a freak and a latter-day Beat? Wrong! The surface is the surface, cosmopolitan, infused with Asian experience and Rimbaud and American pop culture and echoes of mean urban streets. But scratch in these free-form effusions and you find a strong and fine outrage, a protest against a world in which ‘the celebration of the buck is alive everywhere’.. Roberts is accessible. He’s a rebuke to academic poetry which turns in on itself and never looks at the world outside its window. He’s fun and he’s a damned good read.
– Dr Nicholas Reid
It’s good, it’s real good. Suckerpunch punchlines that get you questioning the nature of your very existence.
– James Compton
You have ranged far and wide. The range is there in the poems, and they benefit from it. I enjoy it all, and find a lot to admire. Thank you so much for sending it to me.
– C. K. Stead, Poet Laureate, New Zealand
A nostalgic ’60s vagabond poetic, one eminently suited to the microphone or an audience of lovers…the kind of thing that many readers of poetry still associate with honesty & truthfulness.
– Robert Maclean, Landfall
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CARDS ON THE TABLE
is a staircase more
useful than a ladder?
is turquoise prettier
is a knife more decisive
than an axe?
a cloudy sky has
a different meaning
from a clear one.
such as? You might ask.
well, it’s your life –
& you must decide.
LOST & FREE ON A STREET IN JAKARTA
in the moment!
one more evacuee
from a hundred million moments
zigzagging in rain – among strange rubbish, dirt,
busted concrete, & revving monster motorcycle-mash of
I was seeking a pathway home, in a smoky blue dusk
& failing as only a foreigner can – absolutely!
to hail a taxi…
yet, there was laughter inside my aching heels;
sanctuary inside the eyes of the riders,
as I started to unfold that old Siddhartha Gautama stuff
about our thoughts making the world –
& curiosity felt good
walking further up the number line than I had for quite a
easy words, familiar ghosts
tickets to shadow plays
calls to prayer.
THE TREE OUTSIDE MY WINDOW
the temporary tree outside my window is bending –
furiously, in the wind; anchored.
it’s a class act.
wind is a free-ranging show pony – lacking finesse at
unable, say – to slip exclusively thru portals,
tending to fly straight into anything it approaches
but forever regulating power, changing direction.
I’m envious –
floating in the pool, watching lightning overhead –
stuck on how much we gaze.
an intense outflow of electricity in the air – occurring within
clouds, among clouds, or between a cloud & the surface of the
relentless precision, interaction –
an exploding nest of verbs!
not so tree-like.
freeze-frames of choosing & tasting –
the details of which are ultimately lost in summation:
an existence –
somewhere between waiting in line
& riding the tick-tock click track up to the final
what did you think your life was going to be like
on these old roads –
with second-hand information,
limited skills & only so many miracles
to go around?
& time –
thundering like an angry, virus-spitting bull –
running hard at you, in your own doorway?
& what of Cezanne’s thing?
everything in nature reduced to a cylinder, sphere
you’ve done pretty well relating to those shapes,
squinting thru the alphanumeric confusion
& dealing with all the famous metaphors…
including the ultimate “thousand-yard stare”.
how are you supposed to react to such mystery?
mistakes probably won’t matter
when the world becomes colourless, the wind visible
& the light – solid in your hands,
as you pull yourself away
from the world.
AT THE TACO EXPRESS
at the Taco Express down on Lamar
Che Guevara stares from a wall –
watching a couple struggle
with a crossword puzzle.
the woman – I’ve seen an hour before,
browsing in a sex shop.
the man she’s with is focused on something
not in the room.
above the bar is a yellow plastic sun with a clock face,
hands stopped – probably for years
& we’re fine with that, because in the beer-sign light
you can read the paper & drink a $3.50 Margarita
on a Monday morning –
tapping out a little dance with your fingers on the table top,
quietly pondering normal stuff:
how damn near the same all our lives are;
the hairy notion of bonding with something in the ether;
whether it’s time for a personal revolution –
if you could actually pull it off.
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