TRYING TO GO
WITH THE FLOW
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.
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
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.
me then? Am I too quick to say
gleam's responsive where the word
Agrees no it's not the
weather's fault but
might as well be now rehearsals first
rerospective's still a smattering of good
Years found the right place
rain not the steady fall but faces at
window with improbable names need
I'm bogus Latin like the rest
martins: ready to dash the course
Pre-set my right time is the
Act the commendable
(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
such telegrams will come if facts
her story down É
thin indifferent light he'll read by
(from 'Necessary Mode')
In fact, to quote the back cover blurb, quoted from Steve Spence in
'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 inÉ
there's a rusty point
To be made no
question though I don't
which generates some cute
texts (but disconnect the
saying nothing sparks fly and
A solar wind
makes perfect company a
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.
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
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 cafŽ table falling silent to listen. The
stone's to be inscribed or painted upon, not eaten.
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.
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