A is for Apple for Teacher


Risk Assessment, Rupert Loydell and Robert Sheppard
[Damaged Goods]

Mallarme wrote that he regarded the alphabet as the greatest work of poetry. This pamphlet of poems is based on the letters of the alphabet - in the usual order of A-Z. Its other significant structures are that the poems were written 'over a period of months as a rapid exchange of emails… a letter of the alphabet, a number of lines, a maximum number of words and a democratic but ludic turn-taking between the two writers.'

It would be a mistake however to try and separate the two poets' styles or to try and ascertain exactly who worked on what line or which idea. The poems genuinely amalgamate. It is interesting that they have sought to lay out these terms. Might it be the case that they have lost out on the signification possibilities of each letter of the alphabet by giving each poem an actual title? Without seeming to criticise the poetry in itself, the poems may have proved more exciting to the reader if they had not sought to provide titles which inevitably put a context to the poems' content. The pamphlet's title is taken from the poem for the letter 'R' - 'Risk Assessment'.

There is some very interesting use of the structure. There is a prolific use of the caesura - sometimes more than once in the line. This may be simply a replacement for punctuation or we might be led to think that this is where the dialogue between the poets is taking place. I think that there are other complexities that indicate that the co-operation between the poets is more sophisticated. The poems often end with one or more lines which do not contain a caesura leading to a sense that the poem is reaching a conclusion ('Empire'). The caesuras are teased by being used in conjunction with frequent enjambment' establishing a rhythm within the poems which is then broken up by a change of style to lines that do not seem to carry forward either in terms of meaning or grammar ('Knuckles Unbuckling'). The collage is interpreted and supported by the method of writing the poems.

There are some lovely images here: 'no strings attached // wired to the last' and 'life as a rough copy / of shrapnel marks on puppets' ('Jaundiced Morning'); 'prayer beads of stumbles' ('Month Turns'). There are playful word associations – 'sheered' and 'shearing' ('Drawn Face'), 'smile' and 'simile' ('Ghost-cast Glances'). The reference to damaged goods is in the poem 'Xylonite' (a type of celluloid). This poem contains some of the overall tone of the sequence that situation is 'situation' ('A Mutual Mirroring') and the I in ' "I" Voices', interest as 'interest' in 'Ghost-cast Glances': experience seems one step removed.

The poets play with traditional evocations - 'O Muse! this un-Heraclitean fire!' ('O! Muse!'), and the rural idyll - 'the hireling flexes his tool' ('Xylonite'). There are games played with layers of brackets ('Risk Assessment') though I am sure one of the opening brackets has slipped away… The viewpoint of the poets is perhaps a little distant because of the conscious 'ludism'. Perhaps the poetry would have been stronger if the playfulness were more integrated and less on the surface: 'we're writing each line' ('Fortunate Implausibilities'). I'm not sure if the poets' treatment of what they appear 'to do' to women rather than their relationship with them warms the heart or poetic cerebellum ('at his first burst she moans', 'Xylonite'). And when the imagery does work up to fuller strength it is often rural rather than urban:

     polished chrome static    summer descends    burnished from threat
     I'm dazzled by brilliant distances    seduced by intimate close-ups
     Fond brushstroke    critical hindsight    sun 'streaming' into my studio
          ('Yesterday I Read')

although Peter Barry (back cover) regrets lyrics generally which give 'impressions of (for example) a misty morning on Wimbledon Common'.

 

This booklet is a good read. Even the list of contents seems like a great first poem. Well 'A is for Apple for Teacher', I've had a think about it. Do write another sequence with just the alphabet as titles. Mallarmé understood the semiotic levels of signification of the letters and poets have a great opportunity here to draw out the meanings. I look forward to it.

         © Sam Rennes 2007