A Three Drops Review
Being With Me Will Help You Learn by Thomas McColl
[Reviewed by Caroline Hardaker]
‘Being With Me Will Help You Learn’ is a truly eclectic collection of poetry, poetic prose, and short stories by Thomas McColl. McColl’s fictions have been widely published in contemporary journals, magazines, and anthologies, and this particular collection includes some of McColl’s published pieces from 1995 onwards. This collection is the first to be published by Listen Softly London, a fledgling press based in London, and it seems to have been a very good start for them!
The pieces in the collection flit between gritty realism and dystopian fantasy, fluctuating frequently between written forms. A reader can be thrust from a short lyrical poem to a gripping and urgently delivered new-report, giving the sense of a chaotic world spiralling out of control. There’s such a range that though all of the poems (to an extent) tackle the absurd there never feels like there is any theme or subject repeated. The collection truly seems to take us around the world, or rather – all around the human psyche – and back.
There is a deep sense of self-aware humour with some of the pieces, such as in the flash fiction ‘Smile’, whereby we’re greeted by a market trader dealing with a complaint about his rather intangible wares. The stories and poems have a definite feel of Aesop’s Fables or the Grimm tales, but rather than reflecting back to ancient myth or folklore, McColl constructs his own with accessible language, known landscapes, and contexts that every reader would be familiar with. As you take in these urban fables, you definitely can’t help but wonder (when you consider the title of the collection) which of the many truths McColl is trying to teach us will be taken most to heart.
The collection begins and ends with an consideration of grammar itself, from the ‘demotion of my I to lower case’ in ‘I’, to an exploration the potential pandemonium ensuing from a lack of intonation or punctuation in ‘The Full Stop Rebellion’. In doing this, perhaps McColl is questioning the forms in which we might indeed learn his lessons. This is reiterated further in the darkly witty ‘Open Mic’, which potentially teaches the reader a lesson about how less likely we are to be receptive of teaching than we are a sales pitch.
I would heartily recommend McColl’s collection to any type of reader, even if they’re a poetry newbie. The poems and fictions manage to convey intelligent ideas and startling realities in simple, colloquial language, and truly imaginary scenarios. Go on, take a walk through McColl’s collection, and you might learn something.