Book review: Fair

A review of Fair by Martin Thom (Infernal Methods, 2018, 11pp, £5)

Chris Ogden
Mon 18 Jun 2018

Martin Thom's Fair isn't lacking in morals. Written ahead of last year's DSEI arms fair held at ExCel in London, Thom's timely long-form poem concerns itself with the catastrophe of the Saudi Arabian-led intervention in Yemen and Britain's complicity in the conflict. With the Conservative Government permitting - and promoting - arms sales to Saudi Arabia and withholding reports on how domestic extremism is funded, Fair aims to skewer this cynical practice in more ways than one, as proceeds from sales of the book will be donated to the Campaign Against Arms Trade, which aims to place pressure on the government over this inhumane and contradictory approach to trade.

A social anthropologist and historian with a doctorate from Magdalene College, Cambridge, Thom is a well-read man and isn't afraid to show it. Littered with literary allusions both classical and modern, as well as references to Hungarianfolk songs, Fair is unashamedly high in tone, and not the sort of poem a layman could enjoy without a search engine or encyclopaedia to hand. Percy Bysshe Shelley is a particular source of inspiration for Fair, as the poem tries to put the Privy Council and 'raybanned headphoned hawk-men' in the stocks as Shelley did Lords Eldon and Castlereigh in The Masque of Anarchy. Like his Romantic predecessor, Thom revels in linguistic play; his skilful rhyming and free association make Fair riveting to read from the page aloud. The poem's middle section is especially wild, as it jerks from floods and meteor showers to Homer folding the shirts of foreign- owned football teams before lamenting asylum seekers drowning in the Mediterranean, all while wondering what Shelley would think of it all. Fair is haunting and furious, and understandably so.

Yet for all its erudite style and occasional beauty, Fair would have benefited from a tighter edit to rein in its ambitions and influences. That would have allowed Thom to articulate what he has to say about Yemen's cholera outbreak and heartbreaking famine more clearly, and Fair to better find the 'desaparecidos of the Fair that/Syllables may not restore'. Devoid of this focus, Fair is effectively a highbrow coconut shy with war hawks' faces painted on. It's a gratifyingly chaotic way to show disapproval towards such a nefarious practice, but ending the global arms trade and Middle Eastern conflict is a more cautious game.

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed – Mahatma Gandhi