There are a lot of factors that draw me to a new book of poetry; the poet themself, the cover, the title, praise from people I admire. It’s rare that a book grabs my attention with more than a single factor, but A Lack of Good Sons by Jake Arthur managed two. The title was the bait, and the cover, a photograph of seven divers underwater, six clinging to each other presumably for the photo, while another glides through the water behind them, was the hook that caught me. I had not heard of Arthur or his work before, but I was excited to find out more.
The collection is as eclectic as it is cohesive, with a wide array of imagery and inspiration but clear themes running throughout. Love, growth, and coming-of-age to name a few, all presented with humour and questions. Arthur introduces himself by looking through a window at an assumed naked neighbour, through the chagrin of a birthmark mistaken for blood at birth, and with many, many kisses. His voice is assured in his presentation, as if he is saying to the reader, here I am in full, do with me what you will.
“Some of what he says/I wear heavily,” Arthur writes in ’Confessional’, a poem seeming to balance sexuality with religion. “My bowels were moved for him,” could be an unsubtle reference to anal sex, or as we read later in ’He in the harp’, “the Old Testament word for heart, which is bowel” offers a more wholesome reading. But the poem ends with “the colonnade a forest to a stone ceiling; in me, too, an awful lot of rock.” I don’t think I need to explain that. His cleverness is apparent in this multitude of readings, and whichever way you wish to read the poem, it works.
Arthur examines toxic masculinity under a fine lens in ’Lads’. The poem examines men having glocks between their legs and fighting drunk outside of clubs, and ends with the following stanza:
Think of parents:
cleaning the bore of the barrel
checking for fouling of the rod
taking apart his action
finding him faultless.
The phrase ‘boys will be boys’ springs to mind, a frustrating explanation or excuse to weakly remove guilt or blame from men who have done harmful things. Whether they are young or drunk or rich should be no excuse, and yet history sees men being removed from their problems and faults and shielded from the hurt they have cast about. This is a frustration half of the world shares, and to see it surmised so perfectly in so few words is excellent.
A Lack of Good Sons is assured and pointed, both funny and moving in some beautiful symmetry. Arthur is not afraid to tackle large, difficult topics, nor to celebrate little loves. He moves with grace through this collection and beckons you to come along for the ride. I thoroughly enjoyed this collection, and I know you will too.
Featured image courtesy of Te Herenga Waka University Press.