London Grip Poetry Review – Tony Dawson


Poetry Review – MUSINGS: Charles Rammelkamp appreciates Tony Dawson’s mixing of wit and understanding of human nature

Tony Dawson 
ISBN: 978-1915819666
51 pages   $8.99 

Following up on his previous poetry collection, Afterthoughts, Tony Dawson’s new collection evinces the same wit and outlook, bemused, skeptical, but appreciative. Indeed, “musings” and “afterthoughts” come from that same impulse to critically examine and evaluate. Dawson questions it all.

Though he’s lived in Spain for more than three decades, having been on the faculty at the University of Seville, Tony Dawson was born in London, a child during World War II, and while he has not been back to England this century, he’s still engaged with British politics and culture. Indeed, the cover of Musings depicts the Thames, an onlooker, perhaps Dawson himself, critically surveying the scene.

The first three poems, indeed, address aspects of Britain. He begins with a scathing review of the Tory government (“Prologue to the Governor’s Tale,” which channels Chaucer) and its immigration policies (“A Gnomic Allegory”) and proceeds to “Primary Fear,” a memory of childhood in wartime London, from the bomb sirens and school bullies to the town mortuary and the cemetery.

            That world, dangerous and cruel,
            forced me to live in the presence of dying.
            Two of my schoolgirl friends were killed.
            The Nazi wolf blew their house down.

The collection ends back in Britain, too, albeit in Caesar’s time, with two witty poems, “Julius Caesar Visits Britannia for the First Time” and “Julius Caesar Returns to Britannia” — though in the end he leaves the island again:

          Caesar groaned, “I’ll never understand
            why anyone comes to this damned land
            considering they have such awful weather.
            It’s time to leave here, hell-for-leather!”

In between, Dawson’s poems range from a hilarious reconsideration of certain biblical tales – “Post Sodom Reunion,” “The True Story of Noah’s Ark” and “The Sad Story of Judah, Tamar, Er and Onan” – to several witty poems riffing on classical mythological tales. “What’s in a Name?” winks at Daphne and Cupid, as does “Dendrophilia,” and “Theseus and the Minotaur” nimbly describes a dance performance interpreting the battle between the Greek hero and mythological monster. “The Nature of Gothic” similarly alludes to Scylla and Charybdis while poking fun at a heavily tattooed young woman whom the protagonist meets in a bar – not to mention Moses and John Peel, a British radio personality of the latter twentieth century.

Speaking of casual dating, “From Ash to Cash – A Cautionary Tale” is a story of an online liaison gone wrong, via a “Merry Widows” website!

In a similar vein, “The Pleasures of the Bone” is Dawson’s witty response to Andrew Marvell’s famous poem, “To His Coy Mistress,” in which Marvell laments the passage of time and the fleeting pleasures of the flesh (‘But at my back I always hear / Time’s winged chariot hurrying near’), taking the observation a step further:

            So, now there’re no more pleasures of the flesh,
            we must explore the pleasures of the bone
            and prove old Andrew Marvell wrong.
            Between her femurs will I lie while tickling
            her ribcage, ghosts of mammaries past.

Elsewhere, Dawson responds to William Butler Yeats’ “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” in “For Prostate Sufferers Everywhere.” Given Yeats’ preoccupation with his potency, the Steinach operation that he underwent, etc, etc., this one is particularly risible.

Dawson is well-versed in the touchstones of western civilization, biblical, classical, political, even referring to obscure personalities like Pope Innocent III, who ruled the Vatican in the 13th century. “The Human Condition According to Cardinale Lotario de’ Conti di Segni, Pope Innocent III” lampoons the self-denying asceticism of the medieval mind (‘Innocent III, not the jolliest of Popes, / wanted to dash Everyman’s hopes’).

Marjorie Taylor Greene, the firebrand American congresswoman, is another target of Dawson’s satire. “Mrs. Malaprop Writes a Few Wrongs” skewers the ill-educated politician and her “creative” use of language.

But in poems like “Death in Paris,” about the sad death of the Swiss photographer, René Robert, and “Fool’s Mate,” which relates an encounter with ‘a disheveled figure in a shabby suit,’ Dawson strikes a more somber tone as he considers the friendless, the homeless and the less fortunate.

But make no mistake, Tony Dawson’s Musings, like his previous collection, Afterthoughts, is a delight to read, both for its droll humor and its very human take on existence.