TRYING TO GO WITH THE FLOW


ADVERSARIA
by Peter Dent
48pp, 5.95, Stride Publications, 11 Sylvan Road, Exeter, Devon, EX4 6EW.
SPIRITUAL LETTERS (I-II) AND OTHER WRITINGS
by David Miller
58pp, 6.50, Reality Street Editions, 63 All Saints Street, Hastings, East Sussex, TN34 3BN.


I wouldn't want to put anyone off reading them, but I've really struggled to appreciate just what it is about these books that gives the sense of them being worthy, of their authors being sincere in their attempts to push the boundaries of the poetic form, of them having something intelligent to say, while, paradoxically, striking no chords with me, as a reader. This, I can only put down to their linguistic style overshadowing their content to the point that there was little to latch onto in terms of flow: neither in their cadences, nor in their narratives; neither in their emotional sensibilities, nor in their voices. Of course, maybe I just didn't work as hard on reading them as their authors assumed I would, or maybe I just don't possess the intellectual prowess required to give them the reading they deserve.  But I'm generally neither lazy nor thick.

With Peter Dent's Adversaria
, there's the impression of some technical parameters having been set. Yet, beyond each poem being unflinchingly in the form of six couplets, some with enjambment, some not, there's little evidence beyond the technique of squeezing syntactically sparse, fractured phrases into two lines. The effect is staccato in extremis, with no phrase, nor even thematic group of phrases, sufficiently long as to enable connections or associations to made, subliminally or otherwise, by the reader.

      Consult me then?        Am I too quick to say
      Which gleam's responsive        where the word

      Agrees        no it's not the weather's fault but
      It might as well be now        rehearsals first

      My rerospective's still a smattering of good
      Years        found the right place talking sense

      Not rain not the steady fall        but faces at
      A window with improbable names        need

      Only to say        I'm bogus Latin like the rest
      Check martins: ready to dash        the course

      Pre-set        my right time is the right place
      Act        the commendable glimmer        discuss?

               (from 'Delichon urbica (September)')

Then, again, it could be argued as a stream of consciousness from which the reader is supposed to form his or her own meaning. But Dent is so all-over-the-place and curt that, rather than forming meaning, I found myself lulled into total disinterest. Usually, there's at least a few phrases in even the most oblique poetry that spark, that are latched onto and given some thought, but I, certainly, found nothing shone here adequately for me to give it the time of day.

      Her appearances're due in kind to wonder
      How such telegrams will come        if facts

      Can pin her story down      judge well
      The thin indifferent light he'll read by

               (from 'Necessary Mode')

In fact, to quote the back cover blurb, quoted from Steve Spence in Terrible Work
, 'The mixing of the abstract with descriptive simplicity is overt yet so right, the shift between thought and feeling, between observer and the nature being described so well done in so few words that you wonder at the skill of it.' Personally, I was left wondering at the point of it.  Yet, perhaps the clue is in

     Frivolous or not        there's a rusty point
     To be made no question        though I don't

     Quite get it        which generates some cute
     Athletic texts        (but disconnect the critic)

     Bizarrely saying nothing        sparks fly and
     A solar wind makes perfect company        a

               (from 'Interference')

Could this be the answer? Is it a collection of cute, athletic texts bizarrely saying nothing whilst intentionally disconnecting its readership? If so, it works wonderfully. So, buy it.


And, while you're at it, David Miller has produced cute, athletic texts from which one is rapidly disconnected, if not wholly confused, by the all-too-quick succession of first, second and third persons and the deluge of ever-changing scenarios.

Scribbled in the margins of the text: a confession. A girl runs past at the edge of your vision and all else that you see fails. We left the bar at three in the morning, having spent the evening getting drunk with a trauma nurse in a black floppy hat. I walked along the street with the little girl, holding her hand. The dream's a window through which you see the hurt changing her features.  It was already morning when I was shifted into the ward. In vain I pulled the sheet over my head. After the crash in which his son was killed and he'd been trapped for hours in the wrecked car, he had gone wandering. Lost; turned away from what had been familiar. Eyes closed, she sang one melancholy song then another, the party at her caf table falling silent to listen. The stone's to be inscribed or painted upon, not eaten.

        (from 'Spiritual Letters I')


Who's she? Who's he? Who's that now? Who am I? Who are we? Who's that now? Is that the same she as her? Am I you? Where's he? Is that there? Is here somewhere else? Or is it all a dream and, as nothing ever makes sense in the Land of Zeds, we certainly can't expect this to either then, can we? These and other similarly disequilibrious questions were so often in residence in my synapses as for them to have been issued with rent cards. Shame really, so much else of greater intellectual value, of aesthetic pleasure, was probably obscured by this shifting mist of repeatedly trying to find answers for the who and where of it all. Though, there again, maybe it's just not there? Maybe there is nothing more than an ebbing and flowing of disparate fragments, some harmonious, some dissonant?  Perhaps it's all been pared down so much that there remain chunks of contextually helpful information that only Miller knows and I, as a reader, need.

I write, rewrite - for the sake of what remains invisible in the showing-forth.

         (from 'Spiritual Letters I')

In many ways, both Dent and Miller's stylistic preoccupations bear some resemblance to those of others who tread a linguistically-focused furrow. One such that comes to mind is Sheila E. Murphy, whose work is equally fragmented, but has the edge in carrying the reader on an emotional level, something both Dent and Miller are not adept at expressing.

And therein may lie the answer.

I think I'm fairly safe in saying that it's now generally accepted that there is a gender difference when it comes to emotional literacy, women possessing and utilising a vocabulary that most men simply haven't been encouraged to learn and, therefore, don't have at their disposal. It may be, then, that the added emotional level that supports flow in fragmentary texts is what is missing. And, so, all the more reason to buy both of these books - it's your chance to help fund Dent and Miller's rehabilitation into the touchy-feely world of emotional literacy so that we all may finally go with the flow.

        John Mingay 2004