'NO IDEA WHAT HE'S ON ABOUT, BUT I FUCKIN' LIKE IT'


Bindings with Discords, Pete Smith (116pp, 9.95, Shearsman)


Pete Smith's, not to be confused with the fisherman poet of Cellardyke Peter Smith or the Jamaican dub poet Peter Smith, Bindings with Discords is a selection of his poetry from 1998 to 2008. Smith was born (like me) in the Midlands but abandoned the 'grey foam flecks of the Trent' for British Columbia and a career working as a psychiatric nurse with intellectually challenged people. Bindings with Discords is his first full collection in the UK and is another good spot by the eagle eyed editors at Shearsman, who have quite a knack of publishing excellent English language poets whose work may otherwise float by our island unnoticed.

The collection shows the (im) maturation (I imagine that the sections have been arranged chronologically) of a seriously silly poet. Being silly, at first encounter, might not strike the reader as being an essential element of a poet. However a sense of fun, adventure and play are all very helpful assets in the art of the written word, as Auden wrote of Yeats 'you were silly like us', though Yeats was known for being a stuffy bore and I'm not sure if Auden was silly or just plain nuts, anyway Auden at least lays a finger on the truth, poetry is no good if its no fun. Which is why Pete Smith's comic moments like:

   The priest had to confess
   his booth
   was a hothouse for wankers
          [from 'from the presbytery']

are important. Beyond being funny the above line is clever as it repositions the priest as the confessor, perhaps confessing the unkind truth about his profession after a post prayer pint. Pete Smith's gaze is drawn to the ridiculous, '20/20 vision' is a sequence of twenty poems made up of blocks of twenty lines in which the ridicule rises like mercury. 'Not yet' has a similar tone to a Luke Kennard poem:

   The summer of '68 we bought a budgerigar
   but still couldn't balance our books
   The summer of '74 we fired our accountant,
   cleaned out his cage and the lilac
   waxed magnificent on his droppings

Here the accountant as budgie reminds me of an important distinction between the symbolist poets where Baudelaire saw the poet as a bird and Mallarm saw the bird as poet. Not that Pete Smith's poem has anything to do with the symbolist movement, just birds. By poem 19 of 20, 'See Through',  the sights we are shown have become as strange as:

   Another Night of the Living Idiot: Ritalin elasticated its Mick
   Jagger lips in high camp version of
Not Fade Away,
   extended by the evening caffeine balls up.

Pete Smith's poetry is blazing with colourful images, it moves very quickly from A to B to C, skipping from one idea to the next like a giddy mayfly with a surprise always lurking somewhere up a sleeve or around the corner. Pete Smith seems to be interested in the sounds words make, he writes with a Tourettic twitch and a talented for throwing in verbal curve balls which might be galvanised by the ADHD he suffers from. The fast pace of the writing reminds me of Ralph Hawkins, with whom he also shares a slightly surreal sense of humour. The poems are funny and I would imagine the comedy would be heightened if they were read out loud, as a teenager is purported to have said on hearing Pete Smith at an open mic night: 'No idea what he's on about, but I fuckin like it'.

Despite the tendency to play for laughs what
Bindings with Discords shows most strongly is a sustained and serious engagement with poetic form. A certain poetic approach only lasts as long as it is needed, each section has a different style or arrangement, whether is is blocks of 20 lines, short fragments or prose poems based on a coda. Pete Smith is a writer with a restless nature, inquisitive, always looking to experiment with the language he uses or the structures through which he conveys his language.

In '48 Out-Takes From The Deanna Ferguson Show' Pete Smith is at his most absurd, these are the supposedly superfluous scenes cut from an imaginary talk show, hosted by the Vancouver poet Deanna Ferguson. The Out-Takes come mainly in prose, sometimes they are just a sentence long:

   12. The thought of an audience, that's scary.

   15. The thought of a reader, that's too scary.

Sometimes they are longer and fragmented:

   30. A river runs out of it
                   keeps girls and co-eds tamed
                             clouds the fact
        that Hero was a woman
                  fell
                                  for that drowning boy betide

Whatever these episodes are they would make for a very odd television show, there is no clear narrative or story being told however as the poem progresses it seems to express a certain disappointment, perhaps related to Deanna Ferguson's disengagement with poetry after just two collections.

The final section of
Bindings with Discords is 'Mother Tongue: Father Silence' eighteen prose poems that end with a koda of three words from each section of the late Roy Kiyooka's the Fontainebleau Dream Machine: 18 Frames from A Book of Rhetoric. The words of the koda are artfully weaved into the prose poems, where Kiyooka is often evoked as master and mentor, a guiding light and transformative spirit. These poems have a subtle delicacy and an occasionally confessional tone, the second begins:

   When a glove dreams of hands it is not moved by loss any more than
   is a believer-turned-sceptic: the sun rises and sets on the glove, dream
   love and ream.

'Mother Tongue: Father Silence' is a fitting end to
Bindings with Discords, an intriguing selection of poetry with an eye for the otherworldly. Pete Smith has spent ten years staring into an ever shifting reality, never failing to find a way to express it, here is a writer with lots to say and many more ways of saying.

     Charlie Baylis 2015