The physical and the abstract


Two Fat Boys
, James Davies (The Knives Forks and Spoons Press)
...or, the Night Terrors, Nathan Thompson (Oystercatcher Press)


James Davies' Two Fat Boys is a series of short, staccato, comic scenarios, featuring the eponymous boys in a series of misadventures. Information is minimal and the tone shifts between the laugh-out-loud hilarious and the very odd. It's quite remarkable what Davies achieves with what could be seen as unpromising material though there's a tv cartoon-script quality to the writing which is attractive and immediate. Take the piece on page 31, for example:

     Two Fat Boys

     Two fat boys

     on a bus

     are busily drawing penises

     on everything that they can

     in a tabloid


     The professor

     amused at the sight

     refuses to giggle

     behind Philosophical Investigations


It's the slight shifts in the minimal storytelling that often induces laughter and a sort of juvenile scatology combined with an hilarious hint towards lyricism - 'The moon / the moon / the moon / the moon: / nothing' - that keeps the momentum afloat; that and a curious linking between the world of the adolescent and the adult which focuses on cruelty in a 'Tom and Jerry' type scenario which hints at something more serious perhaps but is essentially knockabout hilarity. Humour is the keyword here:

     One Fat Boy

     One fat boy

     is making up his mind:

     should he have cream and ice-cream

     or just cream

     or just ice-cream

          (page 18)

These mini-narratives are occasionally developed more but there is an 'English-as-a-foreign-language' sense to the whole that plays with a degree of confusion and which also creates a slight sense of estrangement, hinting at something more philosophical, perhaps? Nevertheless, these pieces are essentially funny, even where they are odd and sophisticated:

     Two Fat Boys

     Two fat boys

     sit next to

     a concussed sheep

     and a laughing Buddha

     which is which now?


What I most like about this new collection from Nathan Thompson is its overall sense of euphony. Its content, which includes cultural matters, political hinting and a concern with the natural world - among other things - is almost secondary to the musical balance, whether on a line-by-line or phrasal basis. This sequence of poems look good on the page and they sound good too, whether spoken out loud or quietly to yourself. Perhaps the title itself hints at the drama between form and content although it's not all 'darkness and light' as there's a concern with wordplay and punning, which produces some lovely excesses and fanciful flights which aid the overall sense of flow and immediacy. There's a lot of writing of this kind - particularly by American writers - which is so smooth and 'disentangled' that I often crave some troubling disturbance, but Thompson manages to avoid this trap and combines a heightened sense of 'the musical' with an ethical perspective which still retains that lightness of touch which makes reading his work such a delight. Kelvin Corcoran is a possible reference point here, I think, where a sense of embattled lyricism is up against a harsh political reality which is dealt with in the poem by a formal quality which embraces and doesn't avoid the clash. Nevertheless, this is poetry, and a playful artifice stalks these pages where an impermanent resolution is always on display:

     Night clucks in on horses' hooves returning
                 to not doing what's needed
                                                              entry level fear
                 playing the fiddler at a drunken cross-stitch
                 in the eyes of accident and emergency

Somehow we looped it all in this mysterious
            us I try not to talk
            about witches fingerless the better
            to sharpen your tongue on

but courtship's more than idle
           talk stubs your toe
                      lined velvet cloak
                                  the damask one

how I would love to lead you all into a ditch
filled with scorpions and centipedes
 
            (page 2)

I may be wrong but there's also a sense of this text having been montaged or stitched together, its mix of the physical and the abstract a condition of its making though choice is everywhere apparent. Great stuff.

    Steve Spence 2014