On first 'flick through' of Optic Verve I felt excited - very excited - it just looked so experimental - which always gets me going. I like
something new - something different, something removed from the shaggy dogs and arthritic
cats. On first scan - for the second time: I could see lots of experimental
stuff: pages of narrative, chopped up big poems and chopped up small poems
and all sorts of thing in between. Then I'm informed by the blurb that its
'one long poem by Catherine Walsh - Ireland's most radical 'experimental
poet' - I become even more intrigued. And Catherine also designed her own
As a poet I'm keenly interested in a poem's construction: I like to see how
others go about their composition.
The off centred language of the first few poems drew me in - its almost like
a sort of talking backwards:
ask will or must stay mind
none may lost it at most
mean by likeness ways miss for more
nearly what time which what can
establish for more seeds all can be
for which only need must be
always on think is its clear
outwardly to regular
useless call change in can think
or ever yet well evening of tall ...
They say that ever sentence needs a verb and here we have verb train crash:
the first line is made up of: Verb/Verb/ Conjunction /Verb/Verb/Noun; and the
second line: Pronoun/ Verb/ Verb/ Pronoun/ Preposition/ Pronoun.
It's this lack of nouns which produce the 'staccato - ness' - this and the
juxtaposition of syntax, tense and anything else that looks like grammar.
'I'm lovin it'. Like a radio wave being broken up whilst someone is speaking.
The grammar conditioned mind needs something 'real' to hang onto, and when
this is missing i.e. the nouns, then the brain flounders and begins to limp
from one word to another hoping that sense will come to its aid - but it
doesn't - at least not for a few pages.
Peter Larkin in abaxial forests and spaces comes to me. Like going through
Larkin's intense woods looking for a clearing. The brain begins to filter
hanging onto anything that resembles meaning. Disturbance and confusion give
way to something approaching hallucination. The mind is being manipulated and
exclusion comes in. The poet is restraining us from meaning but is
substituting it with something almost mystical.
The torment eases at page 21, when we arrive at a whole page of prose - which
I am a little uncertain of:
To find oneself
constantly in kitchen. Bathrooms too. It does seem
to predicate a
sort of liking. Affinity is too strong a description,
passive, fondness to sentimental. Familiarity states
the case without
evoking anything of the complicated responses
Here the poet lets us back in. I feel disappointed. Keep them out I shout its
none of your business. Confusion is not a crime.
We are let into a domestic world of kitchens and bathrooms; Catherine talks
about her 'maternal granny'; she has flash backs to the past: going to town
in a pony and trap and so on. I'm seeing Harold Bloom in 'his' kitchen frying
kidneys in a spitting pan. I'm feeling the work of that master of stream
excluding his reader in an illiterate French printing room.
After the prose, the poems begin again. And they become bigger and bolder taking
up the page and running in all directions. The abstract is filling the space
with images sights sounds and all in a confident Joycean stream. The poems
become more and more assured, as the author of seven books finds her footing
- almost 'gallous' as a Glaswegian might say:
of a portrait, Charlotte. Of Charlotte, a picture. A portrait,
A of a; a Charlotte of a portrait. Charlotte of a picture.
of a picture of a portrait/
By now the poet and the reader are in the same hallucinatory world. The poet
is experimenting with words and minds and the reader is on the receiving end.
And its not gimmick or intellectualism its experimental craft - none of your:
bad when words
Round turned are to
Rhyme fix to the
Optic Verve is a work of
abstract art in a poetic sense. Poetry is catching up with the real world of
abstract - is that an oxymoron. A big heavy bruiser of a work of art. A lying
on your back for years scratching Adam's toes. Yet art - excellent art that
is experienced in language, image, sound, nuance, memory. Catherine vortexes
the imagination and pulls convention screaming over the barbed wire syntax
and denial, where only miracles can breath. The mind is taken hold of and
stretched, manipulated and left exhausted.
James McLaughlin 2010