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Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Book Review: John D. Robinson (poetry) & Marcel Herms (artwork) The Barbed & the Beautiful (Petrichor, 2020) 30 pages

This newly released chapbook is a collaboration between two underground legends: U.K. writer John D. Robinson and the Dutch artist Marcel Herms. The book is hand sewn, printed on quality paper and is partly funded by the Dutch Arts Council. It is limited to a print run of 75 copies.


It consists of ten Robinson poems on the left hand side of the page and ten illustrations by Herms on the right. Robinson says of the origins of the book, “Marcel approached me about this project and naturally I did not hesitate: I sent him a selection of poems and then he created an illustration for each poem: As you may be aware, I have collaborated with Marcel on a few occasions and frequently use his artwork for Holy & Intoxicated Publications covers.”


Robinson’s poetry continues to gain in readership through the clarity of his imagery and his stark choice of underground subject matter. In the last two years he has published an incredible array of books in both poetry and prose (see the list following this review).


In The Barbed & the Beautiful Robinson explores a variety of themes common to his work: the ephemerality of beauty & of passion (‘The Sun’, ‘The Anticipation’), drug indulgence & its impact on memory & relationships (‘Meant Something’, ‘Flesh & Drugs’, ‘The Cuckcoo’), the threat of physical violence ('No Fucking’, ‘The Acceptance’) and the fragility of life (‘A Long Time’).


In ‘Meant Something’ Robinson subverts the notion of small talk by forgetting a complement he had only told his partner moments ago, his mind “was wet-sand, a mesh of/ blurred splinters of brokenness.” Interestingly, in a sketch of the same name, Herms represents the pair as a happily adjoined Siamese twins (click on the image to enlarge):


(all illustrations and poems used with the permission of the artists)

Asked about the meaning of the book’s title, Robinson says, “The Barbed: I was specifically thinking of barbwire: sharp/ jagged/ dangerous/ often used in war/ (it could be argued that the aesthetics' of barb wire are quite something) and the Beautiful: darkness followed by light, my way of thinking: the title came to me, in one of those all to rare moments, when you are suddenly taken by surprise and without effort: I think the title reflects the works of Marcel and myself.”


He adds in a recent Wombwell Rainbow Interview (see the link below): “I think that this gave me a direction with regards to choosing the poems: the words and art are spiky and tender, raging and serene, punchy and embracing: tinted with a sense of humour of crushed glass or soft flowers.”


Pressed about his writing routine, Robinson reservedly admits, “I usually try and write everyday - I will settle down mid-way through the evening with a glass of wine and a notebook and pen: on occasions I have an idea of what I am going to write - something that I experienced or witnessed or was told or read about during the day, on other occasions, the poems come from memories that stretch back over 4 decades and I try to capture something of those times and places and characters that I have been blessed to have met: most of what I write each night, remains in the note book but every now and then there is something half decent, which I transfer onto the computer.”


Marcel Herms explained to me recently the processes of composition he uses in the chapbook, “I made the work for this book as I always do. Intuitively and from my subconscious mind. I let John’s poetry affect me and started. Using all kinds of different materials, such as acrylic paint, crayons, ink, pencils etc.”


Herms says he doesn’t muck around in his art, “I work fast. I let it happen on the paper or canvas. ‘Accidents’ are allowed, spots, things like that. I even welcome them. I can continue with them. That’s how the best things come about. It doesn’t work out if I think about it too long. I don’t have the patience for that either. It has to come out.”


Asked about his general view on humanity, Herms says, “That’s quite a question! Unfortunately, I am not positive about humanity in general. Of course, there are good and bad people but as a whole I don’t think we have been very successful. For example, the way we destroy the planet is very concerning to me.”


In his illustration ‘Acceptance’ to compliment Robinson’s poem of lurking violence, he represents the persona as a vicious brut with a bottle in his hand. His red head and jutting teeth foreground what appears to be a black cloud. The portrait is both menacing and beautiful. Herms says of his drawings, “I don’t think they are abstract. I clearly see characters. But they are not realistic indeed.”


Herms says of Robinson’s poetry, “I really like his work as it evokes very strong images. So illustrating his poems was easy.” In Robinson’s recent Wombwell Rainbow interview he writes resonantly, “Marcel’s work grips my poetry, shakes it, spins it and weaves it with such coloured mystery: the works breathe another level of life into the words, takes them on another journey, a journey few artists dare to take.”


The Barbed & the Beautiful is a wonderful synthesis of two luminaries who have created a beautiful and highly inventive work of art.


Buy the chapbook here:





Check out more about Marcel Herms here:


Robinson & Herms discuss their wotk in detail in this excellent piece:  Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: The Barbed & the Beautiful by John D. Robinson and Marcel Herms 19 November 2020:



Latest Releases: John D. Robinson


Find out more about his recent publications here:

In Pursuit of Shadows' (Analog Submission Press: 2018): sold out

'Hitting Home' (Iron Lung Press: USA); 2 editions: sold out 


'Echoes of Diablo' (Concrete Meat Press 2018): UK:

‘Too Many Drinks Ago’ (Paper and Ink Zine Publications, UK, 2018): sold out


‘Pushing Away the Hours’ (Alien Buddha Press, USA , 2018):


Hang in There (Uncollected Press, USA, 2019)

Sharks and Butterflies (Cajun Mutt Press, USA, 2019)

Songs Of Samsara (Cyberwit Press, India, 2020)

Red Dance (Uncollected Press, USA, 2020).


Upcoming: Always More: New & Selected Poems- Horror Sleaze Trash (November, 2020).

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