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London Bridge is Simon Smith’s fourth collection of poetry, and his third with Salt. New to this accessible book is the way each poem can stand-alone or feature as part of the main sequence, a sequence which has its roots, with its author, in the place and mindscape of South East London. This book is a new development for Smith, explicitly locating the poems in the geography and history of this almost bypassed corner of the Capital, taking in the ghost traces of Blitz bomb damage; the everyday life of the Old Kent Road and A2 grafted over the first arrival of tramping Roman legions; the ghost of Robert Browning; and Telegraph Hill, the navigation point for airliners, holidaymakers, terrorists and business people into Gatwick and Heathrow. This collection continues too the humour and wit of Reverdy Road and Mercury with a nod towards the New York School, via the world of virtual reality and the vogue for poetry anthologies, as well as the incisive precisions of e.e. cummings or William Carlos Williams.
Versions of poetry from other languages also figure in London Bridge. The Orpheus and Eurydice story is revisited in Rilke’s re-telling; a translation of Apollinaire’s last poem, ‘The Auburn Stunner’ appears tracing the junctures and disjunctures of war and love; and the poems on the death of children by the Roman poet Martial lend a darker vein and further dimension to the collection.
This is a book that sifts and collects the data of a life lived in the City amidst the immediate and contingent camera-shake and confusions of the everyday.
‘The occupants of Simon Smith’s poems are names for contemporary urban detail ratcheted up to experiential intensities that actually open (rather than shut down, as all too customary) the reader’s senses of place and person. The “mesh” is thereby not amiss, nor are these “Great buckets of Reality” hoisted to no purpose. A rare pleasure found so succinctly in the telling. As Smith’s refresher take on Martial has it, “Wouldn’t every man live, if he knew how,/Giving it all away to here and now?”’ —Bill Berkson
‘Simon Smith has an instinct for unexpected forms which wring from his language memorable registers and tones. His imagination is musical, deliberate, generously impersonal. His translations attest to the deep connection and continuity of his work, underpinning its novelty with a classical authority wryly conceded.’ —Michael Schmidt
‘Robert Browning lived at the foot of Telegraph Hill and Chaucer’s pilgrims went along the Old Kent Road. This is a Londoner’s book, south of the river going east: brick built and bomb-damaged, with Roman remains, Oyster cards, Green Shield stamps, Keats, O’Hara, John James, Apollinaire, and everywhere unforeseen beauty and wit. I think ‘Honeymoon’ is my favourite, but sometimes I like ‘The Table’ best of all, what do you think?’ —Tony Lopez
‘The impression that this entire book of poems must have been very carefully planned out in advance is not entirely outweighed by the sense that he possibly just made it all up as he went along. Perhaps it doesn’t matter which is the case. If in this book Simon Smith really is just going on his nerve then, shucks, it is a pretty good nerve to be going on.’ —Matthew Welton
‘I, who always urge more severe editing ... would not wish to have a page less of this oeuvre ... because Smith succeeds in elevating poetry above the poem.’ —Barry Schwabsky
‘Readers looking for imaginatively complex engagements with twenty-first-century Britain should try more ambitious kinds of volume. I recommend Simon Smith's flicker-book sequence Mercury.’ —Jeremy Noel-Tod
‘Extraordinarily intoxicating and quite envy inducing with its quicksilver shifts and inner reflections.’ —John James