Left cold

Skine, Rhys Trimble (87pp, £7.00, Knives Forks and Spoons Press)

The Urban Dictionary (http://www.urbandictionary.com) defines "skine" as
an adjective meaning "cool sexy and juicy" and offers examples of its use: "Damn, mom, this fruit is skine" and "Did you see that new movie? It's so skine". Well, you learn something every day, don't you? The reason I mention this is because I looked it up, and to look up a word about thirty seconds after you start reading a poetry book is not a good sign, but probably says more about me as reader than it does about the poems or, indeed, their author. (To explain why I didn't look up the word before
I began reading, seeing as how it's the title of the book, would be a digression too far too early.)

Anyway, two inches down the first page of Skine
one comes across "allow my skin(e) to develop texture" and I felt impelled to look up this "skine" in the (as it turned out, predictably) vain hope of getting my bearings for my journey through what I knew was (I had sneaked a preview) page after page of words scattered across page after page and so one is never quite sure whether to read across or down or stood on your head or if it really matters. And having recently spent several hours being depressed by boringly predictable anecdotal poetry, I'm a little concerned about if I'm now allowed to be depressed by boringly predictable innovative (sic) poetry too.

I should explain. It's just that when I open a book and see this scattering of words and a lot of white space, and a rapid skim reveals word-play (I'm not sure if "play" is the right word, but it's the only one I can think of), extreme disjunctions, "new"  words (the first lines of the opening poem include unincredible, uncrouch, unwelledÉ.), broken words and phrases and rarely full sentences, not to mention a fair smattering of the same thing in Welsh
, and only occasionally anything approaching a remotely paraphraseable statement, it all seems quite a challenge, a throwing down of a poetry gauntlet, if you like. I know that one of the things I'm supposed to do is spend some quality time with this stuff, and allow the work to reveal itself, to find a way of reading that allows the me as reader and the text as text to come to some kind of rapprochement, an understanding after initial hostilities, if you will - to allow time, perhaps, for it all "to develop texture" - but here's the thing:

These days I read for pleasure. Pretty much always that reading is necessarily also for some kind of intellectual nourishment even if it is, on occasion, purely the nourishment of reading elegant and polished writing to remind me how beautiful and exact and exacting our language can be in accomplished hands (and when I say "our language" I mean English; I don't know much about Welsh). Also, and I make no bones about this, if a contemporary poem (I'm making a distinction here; that "contemporary" is important) lacks anything approaching a sense of its own and its author's relative unimportance in relation to the "big stuff" in life (global warming, smoking is good for you, men are horrible, save the rabbit, language is untrustworthy etc.) I tend to start off the relationship on the wrong foot; and it's like when I meet people: first impressions matter, too. So come on, you poet with your poem, make me want to sit with you a while. And I don't mean tell jokes, I mean simply (or complexly) show me you know that language, anything one says in this poetry business, is just so much word, and there are lots of other things we could be doing instead of reading you
. And show me you know the best writing is that which engages the reader in such a way that when it also sets a challenge (which the writing in Skine surely does) the reader nevertheless feels the reading is an enterprise involving a degree of enjoyment, and even when, after everything, he or she doesn't "get it" they feel it's not all been hard graft and misery and no reward. And so, if I'm going to spend some time with you, poet and your poem, at least let's share a sense of knowing this, this absurdity that is "saying something", and know there is more to life and writing than being clever. In short, I read for pleasure, and if in some measure you do not give me pleasure, I see little reason to linger. I don't need any more pain.

So, to Skine
. And I would suggest that one problem here - beyond an apparent total lack of understanding regarding the pleasure principle - is that the poetry probably works better off the page than on. Take, for example, a passage plucked at random:

   swansea love song

   peaks &                                                     polis, & eyes

             troughs                                            quotation suppurating

   my actions are                                             steps down lateral

   unr                                                  ekistance



                                       the post coital

                                       word             be




Now then: Mr. Trimble works as a poetry performer, primarily, I believe. And if the clips on Youtube are anything to go by then some of those performances fall solidly into the category of an avant-garde experience. We'll skip the vexed question of what "avant-garde
" may mean these days, when most things have been done before in some shape or form. In that context, and given that the poet describes himself and his interests thus: "a bilingual poet, improvisational performer and editor ...... interested in heterglossic, psychogeographic, mythic and radical pastoral poetry", we as audience can surely place both him and ourselves in some kind of relation, I think. And having done that, I also think we can safely say that almost certainly this poetry works better off the page than on. In truth, it's damn near unreadable on it. Notwithstanding the fact that sometimes among the sprawl one comes across words and phrases that make immediate sense and which the brain clings to like a drowning man will cling to a plank of wood when the rest of the ship has long ago gone down (having said which, a quick search for an example only came up, after two minutes, with

                                the shiny cuff of the word
                                in the undergrowth
                                how many people have been
                                to the dole office
                                conniption, trouser
                                at the pervert's house
                                against perverts

which I'm not sure is a very good example) we also have the word "heart" repeated 160 times in a rectangular block on page 76 which, to be honest, is about as pointless on the page as you can get, because apart from my equally pointless counting of the hearts (10 x 16 = 160) nobody's going to actually read
them, are they? So the text probably (I have shifted from "almost certainly" to "probably", it seems) works best when imagined or encountered or experienced as a score to a performance than a poem on a page, which is fine, and who knows what it means? Who cares?

Well, I
care. Well, actually I don't care much, because I've read my fair share of poetry that looks like this, and on occasion I've had to turn pages sideways and upside down and even hold them up to the light to read them, and a lot of the time it's been a waste of time but then at a performance it's made sense, kind of, and that's good, for even when "meaning" is unclear, "experience" and thought are happening and that's good. Seriously, it's good. But on the page

     ride the boundaries



leaves me cold, I'm afraid, and I'm going to go elsewhere for my reading pleasures. And let's be honest: I have no idea if this stuff is any good or not. How can you tell? It's serious, for sure. And there's a lot of it. As for the word itself - "skine" - well, I'm pretty sure the urban dictionary definition didn't help one jot, and apart from knowing that here's just one other bloke who's into (or read at university) Derrida and "Writing and Difference" (or, as some people would have it, w(right)ing and (un/in(dif)(de)ference) and all of that fun stuff I can't say I'm any the wiser. I'm going to have a cup of tea now, and go read a comic.

     © Martin Stannard 2012