Review: Fixing the Broken Nightingale by Richard James Allen

Review by Gemma White.

Fixing the Broken Nightingale is a small, compact, beautifully produced book of poetry divided into seven sections; Prologue, Natural Disasters, Unanswered Questions, Occasional Truths, Flickering Enlightenment, A Scheme for Brightness and the Epilogue.

The preoccupation with artistic legacy is clear from the Prologue “Here we are, you and I, writer and reader/bound together in an eternal timeless dance”. It is later revisited in the poem The Disappearing Soul with a kind of melancholy disappointment in humanity, with the opening lines “I want to say something which makes us believe that the/human race was worthwhile after all./That we left some kind of legacy”.

The speaker in the poems highlights the fallibility of humanity, with personal confession: “if I had been a lesser man/I might have really/fucked up my life/but all I did was fuck up yours” and an psychological insight into the ‘shadow-side’ of the personality, the “dark, selfish, gaping, un/speakable, wordless part of each other/…The great, putrefying deep sea monster/…squatting in the heart of each of us”. The grossness, vulnerability and exposure of sexual relations is also explored in graphic detail in 13 Acts of Unfulfilled Love, with also a sense of searching, of the vain hope of finding a missing piece in the Other: “I have lost something/and am wondering/if I’ll find it/inside you”. But again, this idealised search for meaning is foiled, with a partner who compares sex with “taking candy from a child”.

In Fixing the Broken Nightingale, the creation of art emerges as a singular avenue of redemption for the failed human, as the speaker grapples with the big questions of existence – the intangibility of God in Chimera, the question of “not how to die but how to live” in the poem Flickering Enlightenment. The speaker counsels the reader “don’t try to lock down the mysteries” as even language is not suffic