Here Comes Everybody


Signs of the sistership, Sarah Crewe and Sophie Mayer
(44pp, 6.00, Knives Forks and Spoons)
Bike, rain, Cliff Yates (28pp, 5.00, Knives Forks and Spoons)
Lunar poems for new religions, Stephen Nelson
(88pp, 8.00, Knives Forks and Spoons)
Kansoz, Joel Chace (136pp, 14.00, Knives Forks and Spoons)


In danger of sinking to the somewhat littered ocean bed of small press publishing, Knives Forks and Spoons has weathered the storm and sails indomitably onwards under its new logo - which, characteristically, is not the obvious cutlery nor even a tasteful arrangement of skull and crossbones, but a (rather wrong-footing) footprint. Promise of landfall, or increased visibility? The format is certainly more substantial than before, with glossy covers, sheaves stapled or perfect bound, more durable paper. The content, thankfully, is in the main the accustomed mix of the rambunctious and the experimental, a showcase for the glorious variety that exists beyond the mainstream.

Sarah Crewe and Sophie Mayer have created a frame of serious playfulness for their poems of love and combat, as if they were the record of the graffiti on the walls of a 'queer feminist squatted community centre known as the 'sistership'.' Ostensibly a suite in different 'hands and (s)languages', in practice the collection's variety of styles is not so great as to give a strong impression of a great mix of voices, though this could be glossed as the homogeneity of solidarity. Whatever, the sparky and deeply engaged inventiveness of the texts themselves seems in no way unworthy of the sheer chutzpah of the framing concept. There is polemic, but there is also tenderness, pride and a sense of new possibilities - indeed, it is also a manifesto about the power of poetry to invent, to create a new language for our world and, through that, the desired transformations - or, in the words of Adrienne Rich quoted here, 'the continuous redefining of freedom'.


 

Cliff Yates' poems move from an initial impression of being just the right side of so-what observation, on through small derangements to a gentle and likeable surrealism:

   He takes off his hat and steps off the train,
   looks up at the sky, puts his watch back an hour.
   He reckons one day he'll be buried at sea.
   His suit's wet through, he's been swimming again.
           (from 'He Takes Off His Hat and Steps')

The fact that this subversive transition is not then uniformly maintained through the collection, which unpredictably doubles back into more straightforward poems, has a curious aspect - on some later pages you're waiting for the leap off the springboard that doesn't, in the end, happen, but the reading is tensed with that expectation. Of course, this will only work on the first pass through the book, but in a re-read there's still enough to admire in the unshowy confidence, perceptiveness and amiability of the writing.


'The Moon From My Windowless Heart', the first section of Stephen Nelson's collection, is a clutch of snarled nocturnes, rants in Scots that nail the state of the planet and the means of escape from it - drugs, music, love, religion, whatever takes us beyond greed, prejudice, materialism and (in this value system) the 'brick slab cynicism' of science. The drive, the energy fizz off the pages. Then, in this gallimaufry of a collection, the second section, 'Crescent', segues into a minimalist style as influenced by the poetic innovations of the 1960s and 70s - concrete and sound poetry, mixed with prose poems - as the first section is fired by the music and spiritual quests of these decades.

   Un-
   Wanting,
   A rug unfurling, a fur rug,
   Unfolding.
   Wanting.
   Rug furl, un-
   folding.

   Before father
   Befor  father
   Be fore father
   Be for father

   Watching
   Un-
   Watching,
   A fur rug,
   Unending.
           (from 'Crescent')


 

The fourth of these KFS publications is the largest and the most expensive. It looks dauntingly avant-garde. But is the set of tools evolved to treat already-printed text still in a toolshed on the experimental side of the border? It's been practice for so long, I guess from Dadaist times, ranging in more recent memory from the on-page doctorings of Tom Phillips' 'A Humument' to the kinds of cut-up to be found in any old issue of  the immortal 'Second Aeon'. But this only means that we should by now have evolved some way of moving through these refashioned texts, unfazed by novelty, with the ease with which we move through other, more often visited, types of poetic output.

Joel Chace's cut-ups are of the artfully arranged and photographed variety, and they have a kind of gnomic zing and resonance to them, a word-jazz riffing on the Wizard of Oz. Hence Kansoz, a conflation of Kansas and Oz. Kansas is signalled by backgrounds in grey (or, post-Oz, grey tinged with yellow), sandwiching Oz where the scattered words are backgrounded by a musical stave, on which the swirling text includes hand-written word-scraps in ink as yellow as any brick road. The reading experience is hesitant, jittery, somersaulting, demanding application and a willingness to turn the book every which way to string together such apercus and injunctions as 'Consider the strange pathos of novelty so characteristic of learning in all fields'. It also demands, in the experience of this reader, 20/20 vision, a good light and a stand-by magnifying glass for some of the smaller elements, especially the tiny ones in brown. The reduction of all pages to an A5 format certainly puts the text on the margins of visibility in places. But the book is definitely one to keep and go through again - rewarding in its tangents, and in the ones of your own it sends you off on. What do you say, Toto?

I hope to look at more KFS publications in future reviews - and enjoy reading them for many years to come. We sorely need them. Meantime, good job!

      Alasdair Paterson 2013