John Goodby's Illenium
is a book of collaged, cut-up 'sonnets', set around Swansea and the Mumbles.
It deals with issues of shame ('a shame-rage spiral' p.46), and rambles in
and out of the relationships of a cast who frequent the No Sign Bar. It is often erotic, irreverent, and extremely
hard to follow, as the end of 'LV' perhaps shows:
It will be
barbaric, it will be unspokenly hopeless
Marital-martial breaks breaks the heart
will wash over it.
apart-parts like unto a biftek bien cuit.
And lone, a
memory tin memoriam
The blurb says that this is evidence of 'the "brilliantly pointless" energies
of language'. Hmmm. The cut-up lines are borrowed from many different
sources, from poems, to scientific experiments and parts of popular culture,
and are reconfigured throughout the 72 poems, so that you begin to recognise
echoes, slight transformations and recontextualisations. This
self-referentiality is figured in the first poem - 'Cut-up's corny; but
that's what I am / While plagiarism is required' (p.11) - sometimes it's
funny, sometimes it's political, sometimes it's a comment on the poetics
themselves. I liked a few of the lines ('The heart an organ for pulling out
the stops' p.17), but in these kinds of cut-ups, someone else might easily
have written that anyway.
And then there is Philip Terry's excellent, rambunctious Shakespeare's
Sonnets, from Carcanet. If you are
already interested in OuLiPo, then this is a very welcome extension to what
British writers are doing within the tradition, and if you are new to the
OuLiPo's use of writing rules, then this is a great introduction to what's on
offer. Buy this book.
Philip Terry's OuLiPo work has already been recognised in his own Oulipoems, his translations of Raymond Queneau and, most
recently, as the editor of a 50th anniversary celebration of
These Sonnets extend his work
in the field, and really do
transform Shakespeare's sonnet sequence into a valuable and engaging
celebration of the 'energies of language'.
In a short afterword, Terry explains some of the
rules and transformations he used: every time the word 'time' appears in an
original sonnet, for example, he introduced vocabulary from The Times; 'sun'
from The Sun; 'star' from The Star and so on. He also utilised noun substitution frequently
(N+7); subtraction and reduction of the original texts; homophonic
translation into lines which sound similar but use different vocabulary;
substituting critical discourses about the sonnets into the new versions;
monovocalism in which only one vowel is permitted, and so on. Comparing
Shakespeare's original and Terry's versions of Sonnet 1, they work thus:
From fairest creatures we desire
That thereby beauty's rose might never die,
But as the riper should by time decease,
His tender heir might bear his memory:
But thou contracted to thine own bright eyes,
Feed'st thy light's flame with self-substantial
Making a famine where abundance lies,
Thy self thy foe, to thy sweet self too cruel:
Thou that art now the world's fresh ornament,
And only herald to the gaudy spring,
Within thine own bud buriest thy content,
And, tender churl, mak'st waste in niggarding:
Pity the world,
or else this glutton be,
To eat the
world's due, by the grave and thee.
beauty's rosin might never die,
ripper's memory fades
for her eyes
famine where abundance lies.
So lucky in
Herald to the
and I without content.
To eat the
grave and thee.
We desire increase from hedge funds
toes might never drop,
But his hair
bare his memory,
(contracted to Middle Earth)
flight's male with kneecapped fowl,
famine where Adebayor lives,
Thou that art
Harold to the
corn dolly within thine own beard,
waste in noggin.
You don't need me to point up the many
transformations at play here, and you can have as much pleasure as the next
person unpicking Terry's endlessly inventive intertexts. Needless to say I
was laughing out loud at the idea of Kylie, our 'fairest creature', being
cloned (Shakespeare's first 17 sonnets are the 'procreation sonnets'), but
that such mediated beauty is, by the end, mere 'putty'. Then I was cringing,
as the Ipswich Ripper who recently murdered prostitutes on Portman Road
brought Shakespeare's treatise on beauty, youth and procreation into a
chilling contemporary context. Portman Road is, of course, where Ipswich Town
play football, which then had me laughing again at the invocation of Adebayor
(replacing 'abundance'), and the use of other contemporary signifiers such as
the pink iPod for 'gaudy spring' and Sauron's eye from Peter Jackson's films
of the Tolkien trilogy standing in for 'contracted to thine own bright eyes'.
Terry's reformulation of Shakespeare's famous Sonnet 18 is also a
favourite - in light of The Bard's original take on Romantic Love, Terry's
reinvention is funny, smart, and relevant to these days of binge-drinking,
late-night sexual liaisons in town centres and the rampant spread of Chlamydia
amongst those who take part:
compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more
Rough winds do shake the darling buds
And summer's lease hath all too short a
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven
And often is his gold complexion
And every fair from fair sometime
By chance, or nature's changing course
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou
Nor shall death brag thou wander'st in
When in eternal lines to time thou
long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
compare thee to a Smirnoff ad?
Thou art more
shimmering, more full of zap;
Icy winds do
freeze the Russian steppes,
high hath all too short a date:
cold the eye of Yeltsin shines,
And oft is
his bleached complexion dimmed;
drunk through drunkenness declines,
By cancer of
the liver or septicaemia untrimmed:
eternal glimmer shall not fade,
possession of that zip thou ow'st,
death brag thou sup in his shade
immortal lines like these thou glowest:
So long as
men can drink and take a piss,
So long lives
thine in this
Buy this book.
Have I already said that?
OK then, Buy this Boot!
No? Well Buy this Border then.
Don't fancy it? Well why not Buy this Borzoi?
And while you're at it, Buy This, Boswell!
No? Buzz this Botulism then!
Byzantize this Boulevard!
OK, I'll say it again, just Buy this Bouquet.
Andy Brown 2011