Rhys Milsom reviews Masculine Happiness by David Foster Morgan
From the get-go of Masculine Happiness, you’re pressed up close to a vibrant poetic voice, complicated subject matter which you have to prise apart and study with a magnified eye, a dazzling and interchangeable tone and an intriguing use of content which both warns and welcomes.
It’s hard to believe that this is David Foster-Morgan’s first collection of poetry. Although he has been published in respected publications here and there – Envoi, Magma, Poetry Wales to name a few – Foster-Morgan shows a confident, assured voice and style which belies the fact that Masculine Happiness is his debut.
The opening poem, F O’H sets the mood instantly with the first stanza:
There are better reasons to read
Frank O’Hara than a drinker in a bar
lost in reading a beat-up old collection.
The essence of noir streams through this poem like salmon swimming upstream and this spirit continues throughout the collection in such poems as Corset, The City Said No and November Level. Foster-Morgan has embodied a sense of place in all of the poems, whether this place be the natural environment such as Land in Water:
Sunrise is the settlement: hedges, shoals of sea
and beach lip: the parishes of Criccieth.
Or physical being such as Hound Dogs:
Unfazed, she swims up close, stands naked
and looks straight at him. You are an arty-miss.
She smiles, wry, and fingers her gold name pendant.
What Masculine Happiness isn’t is an easy read. What it is is a challenging read. And that is where you find the merit and sheer complexity of what’s on offer. You really have to analyse each poem, each stanza and the structure employed to find meaning for yourself. After all, isn’t that what poetry is supposed to do? Trigger your thoughts and let you figure out what the poet is conveying to you, the reader?
Foster-Morgan, through an accumulation of delicate and textured poems, slowly pulls the reader through a world which juxtaposes itself, re-aligns, and then becomes an almost incongruous milieu. Through its dark nature and unrelenting focus on its response to a world which we have all encountered, however fleeting, the reader is left impaired and emotionally charged. One poem that does this remarkably is ‘Machine Gun Killer’ with its final stanza encompassing the meaning and depth behind the title of the collection, metaphorically soliciting what masculine happiness can and can’t be:
heard the bullets ring,
saw the bricks chip, the greenhouse splinter;
let the gun keep firing.
Masculine Happiness isn’t a collection for new readers of poetry, it’s a collection for enthusiasts and other poets, or the adventurous. It excites and entices and leaves you probing deeper into the chasms of thought that Foster-Morgan has steadily built. This is a great addition to the ever-burgeoning Welsh poetry scene and will sit proudly and unashamedly amongst the brilliant poetry that Seren publish.