We never know when we’ll be called on to dive.
Robinson’s erotic poems have long been footsoldiers in the frontlines of my heart’s reaching for meaning. If I am ever unsure I’ll find it in living, I know I’ll feel it in poems like “Waiting for your Gun”, which poises a speaker on the slippery edge of a diving board, holding them there in self-censuring shame over the roundness of their gut, the enormity of their appetites. Our speaker begins by telling us they are awaiting permission: the work of the unravelling poem that follows is to claim that wanting out loud, without a by-your-leave. In effect, the body of the poem splits off from the head, hunger doing backflips and handstands under the water, while the unspoken wanting and waiting treads calmly on the surface of this narrative. Everything you want you can find, this poem tells us — you just hadda go deeper.
I want Colin Robinson’s poems of wanting in my life forever because they do exactly this: show us the entanglements and delectable agonies of wanting, in a world where nothing is as simple or as uncomplicated as a man desiring another man. You will notice in “Waiting for your Gun” that there are no sweeping pronouncements of desire for/of an entire community. There is only this springboard of hunger, the speaker contemplating the directions given by the object of their need, the preparation of that active flame that vaults the reader through positions of athletic poise. We move from springboard to racer’s starting tracks in a tautness of diction that is both anticipatory and avid:
“i was all ready in the starting blocks
not wanting to jump your gun
you were ripe
and sweeter and bigger and closer
than i had imagined”
The wanting becomes so acute that it transmogrifies into Christmas, that ultimate crucible of desires unwrapped. In those final movements of the poem, the speaker feels childlike again with spitwet fingers peeling ever closer to the epicentre of discovery. Regarding a tree ornament in the hand of a two year old takes on a crystalline urgency, a sense that, in the poem’s last line, “call me i’d hold fast tug and the globe would shatter”. There is no precious holding or handling here. The world of the poem runs on ferality, wrapped in a round belly rippling with its secret stresses of ardour, strong calves tensed to dive, a man the object of desire, just about ready to peel and scarf completely.
The poem asks us, what do we do when we get to the brink of our potbellied, penis-throbbing want? What would you do? Can you declaim it in lines as hot, and holy, and activated in sweat and sulphur, as these?
This is the second of seven reflections in “and i am the man / laughing”, close readings of the poems of Colin Robinson. Each of these poems appears in Colin’s debut collection, You Have You Father Hard Head (Peepal Tree Press, 2016). Robinson, a beloved and pioneering poet, activist and columnist, died on March 4th, 2021 following a prolonged battle with cancer. He was a powerful creative and transformative force, an ally without comparison, and a truly irreplaceable comrade. He will be missed, and his work will live long and impactfully.