Review of ‘Shill’ – Richard Osmond

I first came across Richard Osmond in The Salt Book of Younger Poets and struggled a little with the disjointed, cryptic lines. There was an obvious talent, but I wasn’t sure it was for me and moved on to other poetry.

Then, just the other week, I came across him again in the form of the recent Happenstance pamphlet, Shill. Intriguingly, this is one of two Osmond pamphlets published simultaneously by Happenstance (the other being Variant Air, which ‘revisits the mode and style of Gerard Manley Hopkins’). Even more interesting is that Happenstance has never before published two pamphlets by the same poet at the same time. For a small, independent publisher, that is quite a lot riding on one poet.

The first thing that struck me about Shill was how funny it was – there’s a dry wit to this poetry that is only improved and honed by the new pared-down style that Osmond seems to have adopted since his Salt days. The brevity of the lines make it more readable and allow you to enjoy the, sometimes surreal, associations without getting stuck trying to make links. ‘Aesthetics’ for example, works on different levels, making us first laugh, then reflect:

A poem should be both
the can of Monster Energy™
and the dead mouse,
half-dissolved inside it.

The advice, though bizarre, isn’t half-bad. It’s as good as any when it comes to poetry. Moreover, the little trademark does stop us for a moment. It isn’t accidental (of course) and has something to say about the value of poetry, and what it becomes when you relinquish the rights to the work.

Elsewhere Osmond plays on this relationship between the writer and publisher in ‘If my instructions have been carried out,’ by suggesting that an elaborate hunting scene should have been depicted on the page. There is nothing below but empty paper, a droll reference, perhaps, to the writer’s own impotence when it comes to decisions about publishing and printing.

Of course the joke is not at Happenstance’s expense – an excellent press that produces beautiful editions of top-quality poetry. And once again they have made a sound decision in printing Richard Osmond. I liked almost all the poems in Shill, enjoyed it for its freshness and humour but also for it’s slightly dark and tender moments.

Definitely buy it and maybe get a copy of Variant Air too – I haven’t read that but Happenstance are offering a deal if you get both. His website, which is as sparse and shaped as his poetry, tells us that he is working on his first book. Let’s hope it comes out soon – I’ll be in line waiting to get a copy.

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