Over to the reader...
Bendigo, Fiona Cameron (82pp, £8.00, Knives Forks and Spoons)
Regressive Poetics, Anna McKerrow (54pp, £6.00, Knives Forks and Spoons)
Servant Drone, bruno neiva & Paul Hawkins (63pp, £8.00, Knives Forks and Spoons)
I really enjoyed reading Bendigo, a long poem in six sections, which is based around the relationship between a parent and a young child. The daily routine is documented in a breathless, speeded-up fashion, stream-of-consciousness inner monologue, interrupted by radio and tv reports, often dealing with the topical debate around Scottish Independence. The montage technique is commented on within the text - 'Gysin got there first' in a manner appropriate to the poem as inner thoughts are jumbled and interrupt each other in the process of 'communication':
Bendigo means you want
through caverns of throat to
air and reality in a flurry of
to a toy car just out of
The mix of what you might call a traditional lyric approach with a more modernist awareness of the processes of perception works really well here in passages which combine beauty with snapshot recording, spontaneous yet deliberate at the same time:
we're distracted by the
sea/and the heat haze
rising/and slow pebble
awake/yet you sit in the
waves/a wet bum by
9.30 am/a sand covered
toddler enveloped in sea
mist/stately facade/hides a
hate/high street/spills a
collection of shops that sell
expensive people/ ...
The politics of the piece is subsumed in the overall flow, where references to the referendum, the war in Iraq and memories of grandparents talking about socialism and nationalism are all in the mesh of the writing. It's a satisfying mix of technique, which combines a sort of 'social realism' with a more cinematic sense of things rubbing up against each other. Nightmare images fuse with media reports in a manner which combines the personal with the collective, a sort of Wordsworthian 'time spot' transposed to the twenty first century and given a modernist makeover:
/and I saw the dark
mass of a submarine/rise
once/break the surface of
the black water/in the
moonlight/you breath in the
darkest part of the water/
I thought I must have been
the only person on earth that
night/alone with a
The child's serious sickness is echoed by events around the globe with the nationalist debate as a central backdrop to the narrative, such as it is. The 'coda' implies both the sense of an ending and an open-ended range of possibility, quite a feat:
Westminster will be held to
can no longer dodge the
A stimulating and thought-provoking read in a variety of ways and one that I can highly recommend.
There's a long historical relationship between art and spiritual practices and whatever your take on this it's undeniably true that some powerful poetry has been produced within these traditions. This is Anna McKerrow's opening paragraph in her introductory statement on the nature of 'Regressive Poetics':
I became aware of the concept of reincarnation at a young age, being presented
with the idea that our souls use the earth as a vast schoolroom, returning to it to
learn new lessons over many lives, as a completely logical concept by my mother.
I continue to view it as entirely likely.
With this belief in mind, it's possible to read these nine texts in terms of process -
texts originating under hypnosis and transgression therapy - which are further 'deranged' through a computer programme and through the poet acting as 'a medium' between original text and 'final version'. You could argue that that the nature of this writing - 'from the other side' - gives it a 'privileged' or special space in which to operate, or alternatively, that it's source material makes it intrinsically unreliable as a starting point for anything. However, I think it best to suspend disbelief, if of a sceptical nature, and just go with the flow while reading these poems. There is certainly some strange and sometimes disturbing writing within this collection and I can't help wondering how I would have approached these pieces if they weren't presented within the context of their production:
I've been having dreams about Germany again.
Carolyn would hold them when I wake up, then I can't
How are you sure if there are positive or negative things all over my negatives?
I'm certain that Omaha was.
I am glad I ended, inadvertently, red before the wall.
Maybe not even nine, even. I mean, I have even lived.
(from 'Eyes Retuning Red')
There are also some very amusing moments, at least to my mind, as in the question from 'Where They Don't Penalise Tone Critique' - 'Why are you 51447435432 120142343?' As the blurb on the back cover suggests - 'Do not dismiss or pass over. Listen'.
Servant Drone is a collaboration between two contemporary text artists/poets, one British and one Portuguese. I know little about eithers' previous work though I'm slightly acquainted with Hawkins' political montages featuring texts and photographs. There are sixty mainly untitled poems here and Hawkins' work features on the left-hand side of the page while neiva's poems follow on the right. It's possible that they were produced in conjunction, one poem reacting to another, so to speak, but there's no way of being sure of this. These pieces don't operate in any narrative sense although there are snippets or suggestions of such and any attempt at 'creating a story' is frustrated even where syntactically an established sentence structure is employed.
There is humour, political suggestion, fragmentary sequencing and splicing to create strange juxtapositions. These are 'naked' texts in the sense that the texture of the writing is foregrounded and any 'aboutness' is as much supplied by the reader as the author. It's too early to say how much I enjoyed or embraced this work as a reader and how I think the poems fare in relation to other material of a similar nature as I haven't felt a strong reaction to the writing as yet. Suffice to say that the techniques seem competent and this is the sort of material that I feel inclined to have a second look at. Here are a couple of examples which should give the reader a taste of what to expect:
& Brooklyn salt
memory a rose tattoo
tour de booze, low-season
enrolment fee, cloaked
handkerchiefly (to say
the least) bearing
sighs, sugar crumbling
along narrow avenues.
coping with attendance,
quarrelling over the correct
usage of the jaw, not a hint
of an inkling, utterly
drunk on the so-called
I loved 'handkerchiefly (to say / the least)'. It's possible to say that neiva's poem here gives more scope for an expansive 'extending' of the text and this may well change if the reader reads the poem more than once. It will certainly change in the case of multiple readers. The phrase 'sugar crumbling / along narrow avenues' is certainly suggestive - a blocking of the arteries, perhaps? - while the final line of the Hawkins piece - ' 'memory a rose tattoo', opens up the possibilities enormously. I could say a lot more about this work and it's the sort of material you could become obsessive about if you pore over the individual phrases for too long. On the other hand an initial rapid reading through is my preferred tactic and I quite enjoyed the process in this instant. Over to the reader for now!
© Steve Spence 2016