Always More New & Selected Poems

By John D Robinson
Horror Sleaze Trash, paperback $9.99, pp162

The Barbed & the Beautiful

By John D Robinson & Marcel Herms
Petrichor (NL), hand stitched poetry/art book €19.99, pp30

Reviews by Pete Donohue

Hastings born and bred poet, writer and publisher John D Robinson has been around the block more than a few times. No stranger to HIP Literature pages, he has had many books of poetry published in the UK, USA, Europe and even India. Among his many recent works are these two very different collections.

Always More is a Perfect Bound paperback running to 162 pages of Robinson’s New & Selected Poems from US underground publishers Horror Sleaze Trash. The poetry within is trademark Robinson – raw, uncomfortable, based on real life experience and always infused with genuine empathy and hope. As one US editor states on the back page blurb: “A sweet and deadly solution of brutal exposé and unconditional love.”

Much of Robinson’s work can be read almost as short stories, although we always know they are rooted in truth and experience, as this is his style of poetry. Some are inspired by the personal: tough guy confrontations and petty crime; youthful rebellion that continues on into adulthood; embarrassing sexual experiences; drug and alcohol adventures gone horribly wrong; failed and strained relationships. Others by the observational: a hash dealer whose life falls apart when the pigeon he shares his flat with dies; local drug dealers, addicts and prostitutes dying from suicide or overdose; a friend losing his arm to a neglected cat scratch infection; a sixty-four-year-old who changes gender but can’t persuade his ninety-two-year-old mother to call him ‘Julie’.

These are tragic and often heartbreaking accounts but nevertheless deserve to be told and merit our attention. Robinson specialises in bringing the reader into a darker side of our wonderful seaside town that can be easy to forget but of course exists, as it does in towns and cities everywhere. You may even recognise characters of Hastings & St Leonards you actually know, or have known, in some of these poems – I certainly did. If you like your poetry uncompromising yet delivered with humour and genuine concern for its subject matter, this collection is a good way into the world of John D Robinson.

The Barbed & the Beautiful is a poetry and art collaboration with highly acclaimed Dutch underground painter and mixed media artist Marcel Herms, who has worked with many writers, poets, alternative bands and small publishers from all over the world. Partly funded by an arts grant from the municipality east of Amsterdam where Herms lives and works, it is a beautifully presented hand-stitched high paper quality chapbook. There are ten Robinson poems and twelve colourful and vibrant artworks, including front and back cover, from Herms. This artist has a unique style that is both beautiful and grotesque at the same time, using strong repetitive images and themes to deliver surreal and dreamlike paintings. 

Robinson’s poems in this work are shorter, more intimate and more intense, and Herms’ stark but irresistible artworks provide a perfect complement to them. The themes here are once again typical of this poet: sex and love, drunken male posturing, addiction and its consequences, and the lives of the desperate. There is even a little politics and philosophy thrown in. And all this without judgement, as seen in this extract from flesh & drugs:

‘she took my jewelry, emptied my bank account: if she would have asked for help, it would have been offered: you know her, she’s a sweet girl’

If you like this kind of ‘straight down the line’ poetry combined with impressive illustrations in a book that is not only visually stunning but feels good to the touch, then The Barbed & the Beautiful is for you.

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