Endlessly Inventive



Items, Tom Jenks (if p then q classics)



Tom Jenks' poetry is endlessly inventive and great fun. It's also hilariously subversive and political with a small 'p' in the best possible way. Items, is what it says, on the jacket, 1,000 items, numbered and square-bracketed, with occasional images, algebraic formulations (including exclamation marks (!) where least expected!) and witty encapsulations which often make you pause, think, then re-think what you've just read. This is language as estrangement but there's nothing po-faced or cerebrally 'superior' about this writing, despite the fact that it is clever and filled with wit and quick-thinking connections. There are repeated tropes, with variations, surreally-influenced sentences which are often beautiful, hilarious and puzzling to boot. I'm reminded slightly of Johan de Wit but Jenks has his own way of coming at it strange and displaced. Take these few extracts, picked somewhat 'carelessly' to illustrate the point:


           [471]    '

                        the pole vault was developed during sieges


                        but then they took the mattress away


                        and that was the end of chivalry


          [472]     during a lap dance at Harry Ramsden's there is nowhere


                        safe to put your peas


          [606]      'Jesus as rabbit']


                         3 people like this


          [612]     Lieutenant Pigeon


                       Michael Portillo salutes a bird whilst wearing braided




It's difficult to illustrate the 'follow-on' effect of reading these 'poems' with excerpted examples and as soon as you get into the flow of reading you're likely to become hooked by the celerity of thinking although Jenks' linking procedures embrace both continuity and discontinuity. His materials seem to be derived from a vast multiplicity of language and subject areas and his work is filled with deliberate anachronisms and incongruities which mesh together in a very 'easy-listening' post-modern fashion but with an added seriousness due to his explorations of language and meaning. There are snippets taken from pulp fiction (apparently) and shifted by a change or two of vocabulary, absurd 'personality charts' which suggest meaning and order but deliver ludicrous propositions, often of a nature which force you to really think about what you've just read. This is a collection which you can dip in or out of or possibly read straight through in a session with short pauses for 'consideration' or breaks for gusts of hooting laughter. This is poetry which is both 'serious' and 'funny' and Jenks is even more aware than I am of the possibilities which can emerge from the 'careful' use of quotation marks - [213]  'it is hard to 'argue' that 'this' is 'poetry'' . Jenks is a cracking writer and great fun as well.


     Steve Spence 2013