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Ambit review Issue 204, 2011 by Rachael Allen

The blurb for Nick Burbridge’s new book proclaims him to be the ‘pub-magpie' of the Brighton-Irish bogs’, and his third collection certainly has the air of pub-stories about it; tales slickly rehearsed through being retold and passed on, in this case, passed on with an animated intimacy which, once you’re inside, is both intriguing and inescapable – like sharing a bar with a wise, unstable old drunk when you know you have work in the morning.
  Throughout the poems Burbridge explores different characters with the loose informality of an over-eager drinking companion: ‘When Dick’s drunk at dinner with our friends / the set designer and his potting partner / he takes off down the road to the local diva’s house…’ Everyone is a neighbour, or a friend, or a local personality, who either gossips or is gossiped about:
  Back off tour, Molloy’s to the pub for a lock-in.
  but the local Highland Piper, in full gear,
  lurches from the bar, cups his ear and whispers:
  ‘Your wee flute-player. Meningitis. Did you hear?’

He enjoys creating and then responding to the characters from the guise of the pub-prophet, whether watching as in ‘Nightlights’: ‘Closing time. They gather in their lower ground floor’, or advising, as in ‘Godfather’: ‘Iain, you should go. / Get on the damn plane / and hawk in over / the mountains of Switzerland’. He weaves the stories of the people he creates into a community that he becomes the master of.
  The localness of the collection is both a strength and a weakness. Even though we’ve been allowed in and we’re allowed to stay after hours, the constant names and references to people we don’t know can grow tiresome. Yet the clarity of Burbridge’s language, and the limits on excess in his poetry redeems this minor quibble. Poems like ‘The Proud Uncle’, a touching and spare story of the relationship between an uncle and a newborn niece, show off the gift he has to economise language. For all the people we don’t know in the book, he makes sure we’re never left too long at the same table, or hearing the same conversation twice.

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