Angus Sinclair reviews John Osbourne's new pamphlet

The New Blur Album by John Osborne, 2011, Nasty Little Press 28pp | £5 ISBN: 978-0-9563767-7-0

Reading critically and reading for pleasure can sometimes be at odds with one another. Reading through John Osborne’s latest collection the critical reader in my head asks questions like: Is the language put under enough pressure here? Are these rhythms too close to speech? It’s at this point the other reader in my head interrupts: Just listen. As it says in Our waitress is Employee of the Month, ‘it’s important/to appreciate the small things.’

The New Blur Album not only appreciates the small things but magnifies them with a humorous anxiety, often leading to peculiar conclusions:

[…] it reminded me of the time I was at Graham’s house
when I pulled down my trousers and pants
and showed everyone the massive bruise on my knob.
I just thought people would be more interested.

The cast which includes a bumbling tourist guide, a man cuckolded by the BBC continuity announcer, and a substitute goal-keeper are frequently coming to terms with adverse situations. The best of these are not merely anecdotal but concern our moment in history. In Pages from Ceefax the speaker is a hypocritical technophobe:

    “There are too many blogs,” I write on my blog
    and immediately it disappears
like when a little girl says, “I don’t believe in fairies,”
and at the bottom of the garden a family of fairies
grieve for their mum,
taken so young.

Talking to Machines also addresses difficulties of communication. In contrast to the speaker in Pages from Ceefax, the speaker here doesn’t ‘like talking to these machines’ yet finds himself able to express his feelings openly:

[…] I thought, if this is the person I am
after just 45 minutes with you
drinking coffee while you’re telling me about your job
then what would it be like if…?

Here the estrangement of machines acts as an enabling force. The language is simple and to good effect, sometimes it’s the hardest thing to speak candidly to people we feel close to. By the time I finish reading through my critical reader is still moaning a little: Some of the longer lines don’t carry the weight or rhythm one might hope for. But I’m won over by the strangely uplifting melancholy. Anyone who’s picked up a Nasty Little Press publication will already be aware that these pamphlets are handsome, portable little things. It might be a little while before we see a new record from Blur, in the meantime a fiver is a fair price for The New Blur Album.

*Angus Sinclair lives in Norwich. Last year Gatehouse Press published Another Use of Canvas, a pamphlet-length collection of poems about pro-wrestling in Norfolk.

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