Welcome to Befuddlement City


Machinations, Aad de Gids & Michael McAloran,
   (61pp, 14, Knives Forks and Spoons)
Estate Fragments,
Gavin Goodwin
   (18pp, 5.00, Knives Forks and Spoons)
Soapboxes,
James Byrne (32pp, 5.00, Knives Forks and Spoons)
The Fruit Journal,
Tom Watts (39pp, 7.00, Knives Forks and Spoons)


Machinations is by two people but I don't know if it's a woman and a man or a man and a man. This is not important (which, of course, is why I began with saying it). And the book is a mixture of writing and pictures. Paintings. I don't know if the paintings (pictures) are "Art" but I think they must be, otherwise Why? They are okay. I've always quite liked some of the Abstract Expressionists and most of this stuff looks like a lot of that stuff.

There are a lot of things about the writing I don't know, most of which can be summed up by the question "What the hell is this garbage?" But a couple of things I do know: the texts (it would be foolish to call them poems: "chunks" or even "dumps" of words would be more appropriate) use the visual images as a starting point and often do so in a very literal way. For example, a text beginning "the meat hangs on the rack yet the rack hangs in the meat at the autopsy the flesh splays open to a wondrous red colour interspersed with yellow white grey and purple areas" sits opposite an image that is a mix of red (yes, a red colour
: what appalling writing!), yellow, white, grey and purple. Yes, it is very literal sometimes.

One thing I do
know is that anyone who can begin a piece of writing with "transtemporal transstriatic fractality report fracking sondation module of temporality application either pietrologic than histologic" and uses similar language throughout the book doesn't give a fuck about me as a reader and I see no reason why I should give one about him or her as a writer. Give me a break. End of review, such as it is. (Sometimes you read something that reminds you life is really too short. Or too long.)

With Gavin Goodwin's pamphlet-length work Estate Fragments
about housing estates we are at least back in a world of words we have met before. "Fragments" it most certainly is: fragments of interviews, official reports, books, and there are some bits that look like little poems, which may or may not be "original". The entire thing takes about five minutes to read and tells you nothing any intelligent person would not already know about life on crappy British housing estates. There is not one memorable line in the whole thing, and that's probably intentional, because anyone who has ever lived on a crappy housing estate would probably want to forget about it. One hardly wants to wax memorably lyrical about such places, but waxing un-memorably about them is not much cop either, to be honest. But reading it will only take about five minutes of your time, although that works out at a pound a minute. Whatever. It's your money.

James Byrne's Soapboxes
continues this cavalcade (good word! probably the wrong word) of money- and time-wasting. With a title like that you would be right to expect some "political" writing of sorts, and that's what you get. But when the ninth line of the first poem gives us "parliamentary marionettes" it's a pretty accurate signpost to the level of writing we're going to be dealing with. There's a four-page diatribe that begins "Middleton pregnant" and goes downhill from there, which you'd have thought was barely possible. But it is. This is the kind of poetry that if anyone were to read it in ten years time they'd probably need notes to tell them who Galloway, Clifford, Coulson et al are, or were. But nobody's going to be reading this in ten years time, (or now, if they've got any sense) so it doesn't really matter. Let's not mince our words: this is awful stuff. And I haven't even mentioned the Sarah Palin sequence. As if Sarah Palin even merits a poem.

So far, so rubbish.


But, at the last, comes a saving grace. Mind you, it's a saving grace I don't really understand, but in my little world understanding is not always required. Tom Watts's The Fruit Journal is presented as a faux-scientific journal (The Journal of Scientific Biological & Natal Research) containing  research into an "understanding of foetal states in uteri". It's "a fruit journal of prenatal development." As such it's a farrago (good word! probably the wrong word) of fragmentary, elusive, probably some found, some original texts, some science and biology, illustrations and footnotes and it pretty much resists the understanding in any paraphraseable way. But what distinguishes it from, for example, Goodwin's Estate Fragments, is that there is something here takes you somewhere you've never been before.

I don't know, at the moment, exactly where that is. Sometimes it's Befuddlement City, a place I know quite well. But that's not the point. Lurking behind some of this strange, oft-times impenetrable work is a grappling with the complexities, both physical and mental, of the process of pregnancy. The book is divided, appropriately, into trimesters. Whether or not any family or personal experiences are in here too is, I guess, more or less irrelevant, but one assumes they are, if only by reason of the personal touch of "people say that my life will change / & I always reply / 'It already has.'" - language that contrasts strikingly with, for example, "Therefore because mutation & sterility kind dying went away from the fruit / the only average / which can be utilized to cultivate many of this new change in order / is cutting Tugiki to do in change..."

The problem remains, however, as to how long one can spend with all this before 'not getting it' begins to pall, and the feeling that sometimes we have obscurity for obscurity's sake starts to take over. Some of the footnotes, for example, which are extensive and a necessary part of the whole, can be at one and the same time fascinating and infuriating, and sometimes I wonder why it has to be like that.

But at the moment I'm enjoying having it on my desk, picking it up occasionally, and dipping in. Often I find a few random lines a pleasure more often than I find them akin to banging my head against the wall.

The other volumes mentioned here are not on my desk. I appear to have misplaced them.

        Martin Stannard, 2014