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'Alexa, what is there to know about love?'

Brian BilstonClick Here to Add a Title

Brian Bilston is a poet hiding behind a photograph of a cheery man with a pipe. The unofficial poet laureate of Twitter. the Banksy of poetry. Identity unknown. Talented, using cutting wit, knowledge of his craft and the empathy our fractured and fragmented time desperately needs bringing meaning to the empty world of social media. No wonder his followers include J K Rowling and Roger McGough, and Oliver James Lomax (an earlier review) was his warm-up at last year’s Laugharne Weekend where, inevitably, he was a huge success on a wet October night. 

'Alexa, what is there to know about love?’ is the second collection of his poems published in a less enigmatic format. As the title poem suggests, the collection of fifty poems examine love in our disjointed, superficial times and the urgency with which it is needed.

Comic poetry and current affairs date quickly, and too often lack wider depth of meaning and relevance. The poems in this collection defy that criticism. They are well structured, based on a knowledge of poetry and acute skill. The comic content creatively connects the superficialities of today to enduring realities that get lost in the crave for things simply because they are new. Brian’s knowledge and inclusion of the philosophical and classical gives his poems greater wit and bearing. He parodies Wordsworth using his own lines, précises five classical lovers, views Shakespeare from the remembered perspective of a teenage schoolchild, Plato from the point of view of a frustrated wife and reassembles fragments of the erotica of an ancient Greek poet where its the missing lost lines that imply the sexual. Then a poem takes us leisurely through three postcards sent to a wife. Only at the closing two lines do we connect that she is pregnant and had received the notice of death telegram. It hits like a punch in the stomach, an insight into the commonplace heartbreak of WW1.

Three poems address the question of defining love. ‘Minutes from a Multidisciplinary Symposium on What Is Love?’ outlines the magnificent indefinable nature of love. ‘Love in the Age of Google’ imagines some of the responses the search engine might give. The result is a poem with more than a passing similarity to the late Adrian Henri’s “Love Is”, the comparison to one of Liverpool’s greatest poets both flattering and justified. It finishes –

            “love does not need explanation

             love does not exist

             love doesn’t need a slogan

             love is all there is”

It is followed by the title poem – another series of questions misdiagnosed. At first reading it can read as a joke against the hollow voiced IT we all admire until we reach the answers to ‘what does it mean to be alone’ and the magnitude of one of the worst fates of the modern world is displayed in piercing lines like

            “It is the silence left by words unsaid”

Inevitably, there is some of the acerbic social commentary for which Brian Bilston has become an online bard for the digital age. ‘There’s a Supermarket Where Once the Library Stood’ stripping bare the vacuity of austerity politics. ‘Hold my hand and let’s jump off this cliff’ parodies the suicidal leap in the dark that was Brexit. ‘The White House’ is a brief poem playing on the colour the underlies the racism of the Trump administration

              “Pure white in the Oval Office

              The new range from the Du Lux Clan” 

Clever doesn’t do justice to that closing line.

Nor does it describe ‘Penguins’ a poem in which penguins cast adrift by global warming are a metaphor for asylum seekers on a dingy. It is the sort of poem that evidences why poetry is the most powerful literary form, saying the unsayable, moving straight to the core of our too often dulled humanity. A similar metaphor denounces homelessness in another poem, while ‘e.e. cummings attempts online banking’ plays with the inanity of online form filling to emphasise the chasm between the vacant IT universe we seem to admire and the incomparable majesty of poetry.

Brian generously permitted us to reprint his brilliant "Reverse" poem 'Refugees' in support of the conflict in Ukraine

'Might Have, Might Not Have' is a love poem built around the happy chances called 'serendipity'. Sixteen random possibilities listed that led to a meeting that might not have taken place and its consequences that created a life story

                                                    "The way things happen.

                                                     And the way things don't.

                                                     The way things fall into place."

‘She’d Dance’ lays bare the tragedy of loss in a deceptive story making us think we are viewing some pathetic human foible until the end of the poem reveals an all-too-common calamity.

                                                   "and longer still before the shadow

                                                    the doctor spotted on his lungs

                                                    How dazzlingly they had danced

                                                    How dizzyingly she had spun"

If you haven’t joined the followers of Brian Bilston on ‘anti-social media’ do it now, he’s an admirably anarchic force attacking the beast from within with grace and humanity. And blow a mere tenner on this old-school paperback compilation, it’s a bargain reiterating the truth of Leonard Cohen’s conclusion – “Love’s the only engine of survival”

‘Alexa, what is there to know about love?’

is published by Picador and available from the usual suppliers but we urge you to support the small independent bookseller whenever possible.

You can follow Brian on Twitter and Facebook for a regular bombardment of humorous poetic observation.

For more information visit

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