Stereograms of the Dead
By Alistair Robinson


"Alistair Robinson has published his first major poetry collection, Stereograms of the Dead, which looks at some of the more bizarre or forgotten physical features of his locale.

"The former entertainments editor at the Gazette's sister paper, the Sunderland Echo, Robinson's previous publications include a history of Sunderland's Empire Theatre and an earlier poetry pamphlet.

"But his latest book is a big literary step forward for the 2004 winner of the Northern Promise award for poetry.

"The new collection's unusual title was drawn from a poem called The World of Mantovani, which was inspired by a visit to a charity shop, as Mr Robinson, son of the late Sep Robinson, a former deputy leader of South Tyneside Council, explained: 'That poem focuses on the LP records that are invariably found in such shops.'

"'I'm a keen collector of old vinyl and I came to the sobering realisation that the records you find in such shops, most of which are of the easy-listening variety from the 1960s and 70s, will have come from the collections of the deceased and been donated to the shop by their relatives.'

"The poem opens:

In the world of Mantovani,
Mantovani is no longer heard.
He's as silent as Jimmy Shand,
and the dog-eared John Denvers,
and all the Oklahoma!s from the stereograms of the dead.

"Mr Robinson, who lives in Fort Street, on the Lawe Top, South Shields, and now teaches journalism at Sunderland University, was also inspired by the Old Town Hall, a carpet shop off Fowler Street and even a plaster Buddha in a West Boldon garden centre in a varied, often humorous collection of poems.
"But while Robinson has a keen eye for observation and a dry poetic wit, he can also dig deeper for his lyric inspiration, such as the poem, Sunlight On Pavement, about his ailing grandmother, Eileen:

The sun is warming the patios
across the street from the home.
and it's reminding me more of her
than she does herself."

- Terry Kelly, The Shields Gazette


"Alistair Robinson's poetry is the finding of the precious in the seemingly mundane. The poet is a curious on-looker (with avuncular disdain). A sense of questioning underpins the precision of the pieces in this, his first full collection. The mood is familial north eastern England, twinkling pragmatism with a hint of sentiment which never teeters over into the mawkish. The universe is Sunderland or even the old county of Durham, not as far north as Newcastle or as far south as outer space (which is somewhere near Thirsk). The world is that of Mantovani and Kendo Nagasaki, marmite and marmalade, and that world is teeming with life and odd eccentrics that are beautifully observed and tenderly written into life. The poet we find is an astronaut exploring inner and outer space (places beyond Thirsk), what lies in and beyond the oddly shaped, quaint world is nature, an ark-load of cormorants, bears, salmon, gulls, foxes and the ghosts that are not imaginary, the real ghosts of memory and loss. The delicate elegiac poetry fused with a sense of wonder and humour is both moving and life affirming."

- Kevin Cadwallender


"Alistair Robinson's poetry is beautifully crafted, intelligently unpretentious and displays a love of language that is both inquisitive and tender."
Ric Hool, reviewing the Sand chapbook South of Souter

"A fan of Robinson's previous chapbook, I looked forward to reading his first full collection. It exceeds my expectations. An assured voice is here, able to finely balance wry detachment and deep feeling, to find humour in tragedy and pathos in the everyday, and to celebrate nature and how we live and struggle with it in the north east, with closely observed wit and clear-sighted affection. Language he uses with tough love, deftly juggling the daft puns, football imagery, and intellectual insights, constantly giving us that buzz we get from exactly the right word dropped lightly into exactly the right place."

- Valerie Laws


"It's a very pleasing first 'full' collection - 62 poems - by a former entertainments editor of the Sunderland Echo, who now teaches journalism at Sunderland University.
He has a Northern feel for community and family. Here he is in Sunderland:

Nursing unhappy-hour pints
in sticky-carpet pubs,
we cross the bridge to count
ships we no longer build...
we mourn the dearth of proper jobs,
and death of skills we knew as ours.

"Now he's with his senile-dementia grandmother, holding her hand amid her mood swings and confusion over who he is, while he remembers we used to be:
walking down the lane to the bus
stop, us full of dinner,
her smelling of lipstick, and me
wondering if my grandma
in case she was.

"His observation is sharp, from a little-noticed phenomenon of our time -

So many soles lost at sea.
Never uppers, just soles...

"To his own distinctive take - the timeless spectacle of a lark descending:
It falls off its perch in the sky;

like a stunt pilot it tumbles
just to get us nervous
a glissando down the neck of the violin,
then pulls up just before
it smashes into the grass.

"And let's not overlook Alistair Robinson's humour:

How serene is the Buddha,
how imperturbable,
even when he's
sitting in a barrow
with a label round
his neck
in the forecourt
of a garden centre."

- Harry Mead, Northern Echo


"Enjoyable vignettes of Wearside, Sunderland and Durham, country I know well. A.R. engages in a witty, deadpan way with its monochrome image. Pigeons, dogs, allotments figure with memorable wit. There's warmth too."

- Sally Evans, Poetry Scotland


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