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This review is taken from PN Review 255, Volume 47 Number 1, September - October 2020.

Cover of Baldwin’s Catholic Geese
Rory WatermanBaldwin’s Catholic Geese, Keith Hutson (Bloodaxe Books) £12

Keith Hutson is a writer for comedians, which explains the enticingly odd focus of Baldwin’s Catholic Geese. Most of the poems in this unusually fat debut collection are miniature life studies of and elegies for past stars of show business, usually of a less glamorous variety. Here, you’ll learn about Georgie Doonan (1897–1973), who would kick his own arse to a drum beat (‘Some critics called it / nothing but self-injury with rhythm’), the dad-o-gram (‘Tell him three traits, and he’d impersonate / your dad’), and Alejandra Dominguez (1791–1833), ‘Boneless in the Buff’, whose act would involve ‘total collapse’:
to form a pile of Puerto Rican flesh, // artiste-as-body-spill, barely above / the footlights, and her dark eyes, crablike, snug / inside the lowest naked fold, would look // this way, then that, at hundreds wondering where / her treasures were concealed [...].
In some of these poems, the light touch belies something avaricious, animalistic, or just plain naff in the paying public; others are quick-cut with grim off-stage realities – such as when we learn about the nineteenth-century ‘omnivore’ who ate ‘a chest of drawers each night’ for audiences, between scene changes: ‘In later life he fell apart – like / flatpacks do today – and died in a secure / unit chewing both his arms red raw.’

This poem exemplifies the intrigue of this book, but also some of its central failings: the enjambments are sloppy, the last phrase cliched, and the poem nothing more than its admittedly memorable anecdote. The best and tightest pieces here offer ...

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