Richard Scott can make what was considered seedy into a thing of beauty, he can take violence and spin it into verse that both hurts and stuns. His poetry captures the essence of what it means to be gay, and to be an artist, and how those things work in conjunction. It shows what it means to be a man that is sexual, and can show both shame and pride in those encounters. His work is a complex as the things he writes about. He is, quite simply, one of my new favourite poets.
Scott teaches poetry at the University of Hertfordshire. He appears frequently on radio and has had work published in various different publications. Wound is his first pamphlet and it came out in March of 2016, and then was reprinted in September 2016.
In Wound Scott opens with two quotes. One from Walt Whitman, and the other from Michael Robbins. Two, somewhat, contrasting quotes, the romantic language of Whitman and darker and more cynical words of Robbins, are a perfect introduction to the work you’re about to read.
The poems in Wound are bold. They challenge the reader in both form and ideas, yet these poems envelop you. They get under your skin, run around your mind, and haunt you for days. I read this for the first time two weeks ago and since then they’ve been on my mind pretty consistently. I have been reading them again and again. I have recommended it to everyone I’ve spoken to in the hopes I can have someone to discuss it with.
In these poems Scott’s scope is wide. He shifts focus from the persecution of the LGBT, to cruising in Regent’s Park, to the anxiety of revealing too much in your work, and so much more. Yet, within his poems, the lens is tight, capturing an experience in specificities. The touch is magnified, gestures are key, and the reader feels less than an inch away from the action.
The pamphlet is an experience that I will not forget. The moment I finished the poem ‘Reportage’ I had to place the pamphlet down on my bed and sit in a stunned silence. I won’t forget the ambiguity, and beauty, of ‘Fishmonger’ or the sheer splendour if ‘Public Toilets in Regents Park’.
It’s hard to point to a part of Scott’s work that I consider ‘the best’ because his poems feel so complete and whole that to dismantle them like that would be unreasonable. What I can say is that Scott excels when writing about sex. He does not veer towards waves crashing on shores and everlasting connections, but rather ‘a beautiful cock unfolding like a swan’s neck / from the Harris Tweed of a city gents suit’ and the birdlike men that frequent this public toilet. Then, in another poem, there’s the starkness of ‘but then he says he’s got a condom – could fuck me here / if I fancy.’ Then, in ‘Permissions’ (one of my favourites) Scott writes, ‘I am always writing my pamphlet of abuse poems / collecting rapey verse like a tramp pocketing bin-butts.’ The overarching theme of Wound, it seems to me, is sexuality. In the sense of sensuality, passion, acceptance, defeat, abuse, desire, and longing.
You don’t have to take my word for its excellence though, the pamphlet has been lauded by the likes of Mark Doty, who called Wound ‘brave and aching’. He said it was full of ‘resonant language’. While Collette Bryce says it takes ‘the reader on a journey into the lower lit corners of sexual experience.’ And Gregory Wood says Wound ‘conveys the affliction of desire, that entanglement of cruelty and tenderness, with an unwholesome intensity.’
Scott recently announced that he’s got a forthcoming collection on the way next year with Faber. A collection he says focuses on the concept of ‘gay shame’ and I was lucky enough to hear a few of those poems-in-progress at a reading last week. If what I heard is anything to go by Wound is only the beginning of a very exciting career. I will wait with bated breath until next year.
This review orginally appeared as part of an LGBTQ+ blog project examining queer film, art, literature, and TV.