NEIL LEADBEATER Reviews
Sleeping With You and Other Night-time Adventures by Geoff Stevens
(Indigo Dreams Publishing, Stoney Stanton, Leicestershire, UK, 2011)
Geoff Stevens, who died earlier this year, was editor of Purple Patch and had work published in over 700 magazines worldwide. An author of six collections of poetry, he was an acclaimed reader of his own work and appeared before audiences in many venues throughout the UK including, most recently, the Swansea International Poetry Festival. He was a champion of the small press publishing scene and a recipient of the Hastings Poetry Prize and the Ted Slade Award for Services to Poetry.
The full title of this final volume is Sleeping With You and Other Night-time Adventures. The poems cover a wide range of emotions. Many of them have a surrealistic quality about them as if they were written on the borderline of sleep.
Various definitions of night emerge as one progresses through the book. Night is “a bleating within sleep’s dreams / a grey disembowelment / silent and scabied”, it “blinks between legend and reality”, it is “dazed with concussion’s stars”, it “shares its time with things that rustle in the undergrowth” and it is “a place where you shrink-wrap your fear in a nylon quilt of self-preservation”.
That fear makes itself very plain in one of the opening poems—a childhood recollection of being close to death:
Pneumonia, the doctor said,
the boy should be dead.
Dreams and nightmares inhabit sleep in poems such as “First Steps”, “The Left Hand of Darkness” and “Bad Nights in Bedlam” This is a realm which you eventually wake from
within a blizzard of twisted sheets.
There is also an air of menace abroad in “Night Service” where violence is never far from the surface:
On the late bus
the atmosphere breathes from the stomach
ingested beer and curry
and you sit in the leering zone
showing too much leg in your short skirt
while the lager-louts
utter their desires…
The equally menacing “Owl”—which, when you read the first line, is actually another take on Ginsberg’s celebratory poem “Howl”—also makes its point quite succinctly beginning with the words
I saw the best predators of my generation destroyed by pesticides,
naked hysterical poison
and then, at the end, it makes its kill
in the dream light of swooping oblivion.
The industrial landscape of the West Midlands is never far away. There are hints of the night shift, of piece work and of the noise of machinery on the lit factory floor. Night, we are told, “is not a solid sleeper”—it “works in the dark”.
Clever wordplay—always a strongpoint with this poet, is exhibited in the poem “Black Box” where “the autopilot flies us through our sleep”—with the poet grateful that he has made a safe landing into the next day:
…despite the fact that flights of fancy
have no parachutes and there is a real danger
of crashing out of this world
into the next
every morning so far
I have awoken to count myself amongst
Other poems are lighter in tone and subject-matter. “Night Window” is an exquisite poem about shyness while “Passing the Night” gives a poetic perspective on the well-worn phrase about “going to see a man about a dog”:
an imaginary man
with his dog
down by the foggy river
unclear where exactly
I go to the bathroom
pull the chain silently.
In “Because the Night is Made for Lovers” wit is self-evident in the first six lines:
Because the night is made for lovers
I meet the others
in the afternoons
when the moon’s influence has waned
and lust alone reigns
behind the drawn curtains of suburban rooms…
In among all these pages there are some beautifully-crafted love poems. Some of these read like shy statements while others are erotic, forthright and bold. There is a tenderness here that is both attractive and heart-warming. “Erogenous” is a skilful blend of drama and coyness, boldness and humour. For me, it is one of the most startling poems in the book because it works on so many different levels and is well-contained in its presentation. Having been through the ordeal of a bomb-alert on the London Underground:
you lay in state
on the hotel bed
I still have my day ticket
ALL ZONES AVAILABLE it says…
a memento of the day
I first saw you naked and afraid.
In time, that nakedness becomes a beauty to behold with each morning light:
Naked you are as complex as calculus
and yet so easily differentiated
because it is a nakedness
that I have come to know
so that my mind calculates the area beneath the curve
without but a thought
and tells me in the darkness
that it is you.
The short poem, “Stay With Me Till Morning” seems like a fitting way in which to conclude this review. It blurs the line between the lover and the loved so that the two become indistinguishable and sums up what this collection is really all about.
Now that I’ve found you
the ideal word
the perfect line
do not disappear in my dreams
before I write you down
but stay with me
stay with me till morning.
Neil Leadbeater is an editor, author and poet living in Edinburgh, Scotland. His poems and short stories have been published widely in anthologies and small press magazines and journals both at home and abroad. His first full-length collection of poems, Hoarding Conkers at Hailes Abbey was published by Littoral Press in 2010 and a selection of his Latin American poems, Librettos for the Black Madonna, was published by White Adder Press in 2011.