Andreea Iulia Scridon
The Loneliness of a Sunday Afternoon
A fondness for the colour green, Charlie Baylis, Broken Sleep Books, 83pp.
“it is tempting to conclude i’ve learnt nothing from you/ except the loneliness of a sunday afternoon”
Poets who are also critics have to walk on a very thin wire indeed: there’s the natural expectation that a poet who has valuable insight to provide on the work of others must be substantial in their own original work. I knew Charlie Baylis as an editor first – as the editor of Anthropocene and an editorial advisor for Broken Sleep Books, Aaron Kent’s indie press, which has gained traction in recent years by publishing an impressive array of poetry, prose and essays. Now in 2023, Baylis’s A fondness for the colour green, published with Broken Sleep 2023, a debut collection after a series of pamphlets (six to be exact), demonstrates that the poet Baylis is both aware of the task that his double role entails, and that he has succeeded in circumventing any inhibition this might have triggered.
Standing at around 80 page-length poems, “this book is dedicated to anybody who wants to escape”. The world in which he invites us to escape is emotionally uninhibited; graceful, Baylis bifurcates selfhood and sentimentality in one collection. Despite the book feeling like a mounting work of self-construction, there is little sense of neurosis. Though profound and lyrically sound, it’s a playful collection that suggests a quick mobility, both on an emotional plane and as regards the places we pass through, with Baylis holding us by the hand and playing with our fingers as he tells us his story.
With an acute awareness of a quotidian magic (“lovers tonguing in a foreign language”; “I’m still looking for the perfect lover”), Charlie Baylis walks through an alternate reality of “orange trees with these orange seeds”, “a palace of tender hearts” (“hi…”), takes us “tearing down sunset boulevard/where the window blinds are lit by gorgeous light/the boats in the harbour twinkle with soft french verbs” (“lose your illusion”). The space in which A fondness for the colour green unfolds is cosmic and oceanic, dreamy, pregnant with a certain mystery. But at the same time, Baylis’ voice is quirky and full of energy as he writes of an “ANTI vladimir putin stroking pandas in the satanic zoo” (“charlie wave”) and “the tears glittering in your beard” in the same poem. The fact that these two voices coexist render this collection unique, veering it away from the territory of the maudlin (as might have been the case in a purely aestheticised zone) or, alternatively, from the drab irony of run-of-the-mill postmodernism.
Concepts of fluidity and circularity ebb and flow throughout the collection, as when he notes “the silkworm eating herself tail to mouth” (“dystopia”). At first glance, A fondness for the colour green is deceptively simple, but this impression negates itself when multiple voices come into dialogue with each other in a looping, implicitly interconnected dialogue. Though self-examination and a muted interiority serve as the basis of these poems, the poet demonstrates an interest in savouring other people and characters. He sublimates the people in his own life by treating great figures of the past with a friendly irreverence: he ventriloquizes Juliette Binoche into writing a poem about him in “taking coffee with charlie baylis”, treats H.D. with a sly humour in “hilda doolittle’s carl jung t-shirt”, examines “Raymond carver’s rasberry fetish”, as Lana Del Rey plays in the background as a sort of soundtrack for the book. Meanwhile, Jenny reappears as a green-clad central character, an ex-girlfriend that is a sort of muse: “god i miss you Jenny x / your pillow case soft with self consciousness”.
The collection also serves as an ode of longing for other unfulfilled loves, ripe with an implied sensuality (“i hold the sunset above your mouth and gently bring it down to/your breasts” – “your character is very good but it can also be very bad”) and Baylis’s characteristic soft spot for beauty – a repeated pattern, as the poet himself points out in the titular poem: “a fondness for the colour green/stems from your addiction to symmetry”.
A buoyant humour, which is palpable all throughout the collection – “fascism is licking the wrong ice cream/ when eating a watermelon wear a parachute/ do not forget what is suggested by biting/pink flesh, green flesh, pink flesh” (“a fondness for the colour green”) co-exists with a sense of the metaphysical: “now i cannot name what swirls inside you/now i cannot hold you”. The poems pendulate between dreamy plays on the sensorial experience and games of wit: “I can’t stop thinking about you/a tick on your twitter means you are deluded or genuinely famous/either way you’ve probably never seen the inside of a spoon” (“moonlight simile”); and then a particularly clever poem dedicated to his friend the poet Luke Kennard). Talking back to an unnamed poet, Baylis plays on the long-standing competitive dialogue for literary supremacy: “i am happy you are writing about me. you are interesting man. your poems are better than mine. i run faster than you.” (“phosphorescence”).
My favourite poem in the collection is “far out”, in which the narrator experiences a sort of unbearable lightness of being: “when i was a boy i found it hard to breathe/there were many things with which i disagreed/i tried not to take my sadness seriously/i tried to wear it lightly/they were just feelings/immaterial/memories of the atlantic burning”. There is something ambiguous or amorphous about A fondness for the colour green, deceptively bubbly at first glance and only later proving itself a harbour of deeper and more troubling waters. An interconnection of themes and elements becomes apparent gradually as it progresses, making it a book that grows in substance, as it remains in the reader’s mind for longer than any lightheartedness might have suggested. On the whole, A fondness for the colour green is worth reading, primarily for the charismatic enthusiasm with which people and places are honoured.
You can buy A fondness for the colour green from Broken Sleep Books, here.
Andreea Iulia Scridon is a poet and translator. She studied Comparative Literature at King’s College London and Creative Writing at the University of Oxford. She has a poetry pamphlet Calendars with Broken Sleep Books and a poetry book A Romanian Poem out now with MadHat Press.
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