In spite of myself I actually liked Will Harris’ “Rendang”. ‘In spite of myself’? Well, there’s a lot in this volume which I would challenge as being poetry; perhaps it’s prose poetry at best. Yet there is much that is poetic (if that’s not paradoxical), and the lyric quality of the pieces – thoughtful, reminiscence, gently perceptive – lend the whole a tenor, a timbre which is difficult not to like.
The title poem is a super example, and there are others in the book that have an uncanny knack of being transportive, lifting you away from the page and into Harris’ past, real or imagined.
Having said that, I wouldn’t want anyone to think “Rendang” is in any way a wistful collection. There’s a great deal of London in the poems, and the concrete is not only present in the geography but in the people too. You get the sense Harris is talking about characters who are not fictional, and that anchors the poems – and the experiences they unveil – in a satisfying way too.
But isn’t this dangerous ground? It’s all too easy to become self-absorbed when one writes poetry like this, based on personal experience, real friends, real events. Perhaps what stops Harris’ work from becoming twee or irrelevant is that he manages to maintain a certain distance; even though he is there in the work, he is just far enough removed to allow us in and examine it in the same way he is.
This won’t be for everyone, and there are elements that don’t quite hit the mark for me, but on balance I liked it…
…in spite of myself.