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This review is taken from PN Review 277, Volume 50 Number 5, May - June 2024.

Cover of Crisis Actor
Hilary Menos
Declan Ryan, Crisis Actor (Faber) £10.99

What Tuned It Wrong

In Crisis Actor, Declan Ryan’s poetic landscape, if not his actual emotional landscape, is dominated by men – as either macho heroes or lost souls. There are boxers – Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali, Diego Corrales and Mike Tyson to name just four, plus a quote at the front from Sonny Liston. Ryan also name-checks a cohort of older male poets associated with Colin Falck’s Thurlow Road poetry workshop: the title poem, for example, is in memoriam Ian Hamilton, another is titled ‘Colin Falck’, another is dedicated to Hugo Williams. And there are poems about singer-songwriter Nick Drake, soul legend Sam Cooke, Irish politician Charles Stewart Parnell, as well as a father, and a musician friend ‘– our beautiful boy’.

Women, however, rarely swim into focus and are generally not named. Of course this isn’t necessarily a problem – only a fool would demand inclusivity and diversity in the subject index of a poetry collection. Art isn’t about meeting targets or filling quotas (though it can be political, and it will have broader appeal if it draws from a plurality of voices). But for a female reader, parts of Crisis Actor can be a bit like one of those old movies where all the women play bit parts, whisky’s the only drink taken, and nobody goes to the loo.

The boxing pieces, however, are glorious and vivid, active and human (most of his 2019 New Walk pamphlet Fighters, Losers is included). Ryan makes excellent use of ‘found material’, incorporating it into ...

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