Review – ‘What I Heard on the Last Cassette Player in the World’ by Ben Ray

Words and Photograph by Reece David Merrifield

A cleverly, carefully curated collection that spans across a dazzling number of timelines and topics, Ben’s work had me mesmerised from start to finish.

            The interspersed ‘Knee Plays’ are an inspired addition that offer brilliant tongue-in-cheek relief, personal favourites including ‘Reasons to embrace the rising sea levels’ and ‘Listening to Hitler’s speeches whilst exploring Warsaw’. A brief explanation of what ‘Knee Plays’ actually are could read as a poem all by itself, such is the way that Ben is able to weave his inspirations into the collection, adding gloss via grit which does not go unappreciated by the reader.

            What also comes across is the watertight knack for word structure, where each syllable is like mini-waves coming off an untroubled duck’s back. The impressively specific ‘Meditation on three wooden barrels from a shipwreck found in Gdansk harbour, dated to the early 15th century’ is testament to it, and allows for seamless reading where one could otherwise become instantly lost to the Baltic sea.

            The underlying thread of combatting climate change is deftly tackled with in a flexible manner, with swift shifts from the epic seriousness to the deadpan one-liner displayed in ‘Greenpeace’s final strategy’, and to the utterly cynical yet pinpoint ‘And now we are inside the mind of Nicolae Ceauşescu’. A very prominent and contemporary talking point can easily drag poets down into the cliché pit, but Ben creates clever angles to position his poems in a satisfyingly disorientated manner, which is an apt description for most of this collection.

            A final note to Ben himself, who not only trusted us with his work in one of our previous magazines, but also to grant us this opportunity for reviewing his work. We thank you wholeheartedly, and truly has been a pleasure for myself to read his work in a wider context. It is only one direction Ben is heading in, and it’s not difficult to guess which it is.

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