The short version of this review might read:
When I began reading How I Learned To Sing, I decided that I’d mark all the pages I really enjoyed. It wasn’t long before I ran out of post-its.
The longer version says the same in more words:
Mark Robinson has put together something rather wonderful in his collection of new and selected poems. It’s a substantial body of work that is hugely engaging and engendered a wide variety of emotions in this reader.
It’s divided into several sections: The Dunno Eligies, How I Learned To Sing, Esperanto Anyone, from a Balkan Exchange, from Half A Mind, from Gaps Between Hills and from The Horse Burning Park. In this sense, it’s the best of the poet’s work and spans many years of penning.
The sections carry different flavours, but they do share common ground.
The theme I most enjoyed is one I’d call ‘loved and lost’. I don’t mean this in relation to meeting people and moving on, but in terms of the sense that all great moments, big or small, have passed. No matter how delicious the pie, it doesn’t last forever. This is such a great theme here because Robinson’s scope for love is enormous. We get to zoom in on details of everyday life and then back out again to gain perspective. We can find amazing ways of looking at the world through cooking and kitchen disasters. There are journeys through the generations that are intimate and personal on the one hand and universal at another level. There’s even a love of bitterness and frustration, for to feel these things one needs to be alive and that should be celebrated at some level. There’s occasional resignation but, like all else, this is transient and Robinson is able to regroup and find a way to cope or to move forwards with something resembling hope.
My favourite sections are the How I Learned To Sing of the title and those from Half A Mind. I found these sections incredibly moving. Many of them capture moments of family life, written as grandchild, child, partner and round the cycle of parenthood. The work achieves a huge amount in so few words that it made me wonder why I don’t read more poems and has me resolving to make sure I find space for poetry in my world whatever that requires.
A lot of the poems are concentrated and intense, so it was also a treat to be presented with bursts of humour that allowed for the cleansing the palate from time to time.
What I do realise is that I won’t be able to put together the words to do this work justice. I thoroughly enjoyed it and felt hugely moved on many occasions.
I’m sure that all who come to read it will take their own versions and interpretations away with them. For me, I felt reassured about my own life somehow, as if the journey through the ups and downs helped me to work something through my system that needed shifting.
Totally engaging, hugely enjoyable and ultimately rather uplifting.
So here’s to you, Mr Robinson. Bravo.