The Crossing of Paths


Imagined Sons,
Carrie Etter (Seren)
Default Soul
, Tim Allen (Red Ceilings Press)
Rarely Pretty Reasonable
, David Greenslade (Dark Windows)
Retrieval Systems
, Peter Dent (Knives, Forks and Spoons)


 

Carrie Etter's Imagined Sons may well turn out to be my poetry book of 2014. It comprises a series of scenarios where a mother who has given up her son when she was seventeen, imagines possible meetings at a later stage, envisaging alternative futures where their paths briefly cross again and recognition occurs or doesn't. This is powerful writing of a high order and the fact that Etter often utilises the dream-like processes of surrealism allied to the quality of classical myth, in a very modern setting, enhances the intensity of the work and packs a powerful punch into the bargain.

Take this concluding extract from 'Imagined sons 11: The Friend (Part 1)', where the news may be particularly bad:

     We pass through a stand of trees, sunlight sprinkling the path as
     the canopy of leaves shifts, rustling, with breezes. Coming out on
     the other side, I'm not surprised to see no people, no one visible in
     the distance, only low stones, tablets of grey and black, occasion-
     ally a whiter cross, and I apprehend that this is a -

These are pretty much prose poems in the entirety and the fact that the endings are often disturbing, causing a rethink on the part of the reader, could in a lesser writer be a sign of a melodramatic twist, a turn of the knife to create an effect. Carrie Etter avoids this trope, somehow, perhaps due to the fact that these poems are so easy to engage with and to empathise with, and also because, due to the variety of scenarios (from a series of supermarket encounters to a meeting in a restaurant and a very strange 'imagining' on a bus) we are constantly being offered new information and points of encounter. This is one of those rare collections where mind meets heart and the writing works at both an intellectual and an emotional level:

     A Birthmother's Catechism

     When will you let him go?

     A man carves my name into granite with hammer and chisel

     When will you let him go?

     My grandmother's hair was never white

     When will you let him go?

     This door cannot be lifted off its hinges

     When will you let him go?

     Take two of my ribs to make a fire

     When will you let him go?

     It is time, Celan said, the stone made an effort to flower

The reference to Celan and its implied gravitas is entirely appropriate here and
the contemporary collection I'm reminded of when reading these poems is Ian Seed's Makers of Empty Dreams,
where a similar mix of dark, penumbral intensity is achieved. In Etter's case though, due no doubt partly to the nature of the material, the emotional impact on the reader is likely to be stronger. There's nothing mawkish or sentimental about these poems - there is humour of a kind and there are frequent shocks but the fact that there may be an element of autobiography here, hinted at in the dedication, only adds to the overall power of the work. This is a seriously good poetry book and one that should be widely read.

Carrie Etter is also a great live reader of her poetry and it's something she clearly enjoys doing as she seems to do a lot of readings. Not to be missed if you get the opportunity.


Default Soul is the latest in a long line of recent collections from Tim Allen where form and repetition - 3 4-line stanzas per page in this case - provide the backdrop for a mix of wordplay, emotional involvement and a kind of sparse lyricism which is all the more impressive for its condensed intensity.

Default Soul
- a sequence of 44 poems - is made up of discrete lines where the syntax operates as per usual, or usually seems to, yet the emphasis is on the euphony of the individual line, even where this is often abruptly terminated by a change of subject in the following line. This makes for a dizzying read in true Tim Allen fashion. This may be a small book - pocket sized in fact, but you can have hours of fun with this material if you're even remotely on the same wavelength and even use it as a basis for generating your own work:

     cold donkey misery in mid afternoon sun
     a door opens with only noon to open it
     a veil of offshore charity drones
     the performers gather under a bemused lamppost

     nun filthy geometry from the sisters of Tokyo
     inflatable sharks in a street near the harbour
     Anti Oedipus copy on the bench with Viv Stanshall
     that flotilla out there's a ready-made carnival

     curfew lingered later than our breakfast
     feasting on a breakfast of insomnia's true stories
     real light is a collaborative effort
     an identity parade of starfish with nose bleeds

               (29)


 

The title for David Greenslade's latest collection sets the tone with its puzzling, distancing, vague inexactness. That and an impressive cover illustration, The Listener, by non other than Desmond Morris. There is over a hundred pages of material, each poem is prefaced by a pithy quote from a 'luminary' - and all the winds go sighing, for example, by Christina Rossetti ('Sigh Sigh Studies') and each poem includes an illustration by an individual artist, which either helps to generate the writing or possibly vice-versa (you, the reader, decide!) Most poems take up only a page but there are one or two exceptions.

There's an element of high-surrealist ornate ritual in many of these poems, often beautifully undermined by the 'down-to-earth' and common or garden subject matter, as indicated in 'Festival Cuisine', which I'll quote in full:

     Team repugnants and one particularly lovely,
     have you bored the stiff with them?
     It's my tradition they chew bliss.

     Festival cuisine with overactive machete
     and now my birth certificate rearranges
     fake candidate, deep respect massage.

     Unstable buildings refuse to shut
     the printing press that almost brought
     that national anthem down.

     Random prayers succumb to early species
     mercy, a regular vacuum cleaner
     nibbles the remnant of a unique cocoon.

     It pays to know what early flavours uttered
     when international sandwiches want to dominate
     all they can of a swarm obscured world.

This collection is filled with such splendid 'imponderable' stuff and if late surrealism is your bag then you'll really enjoy Greenslade's most recent book. His method of construction is intriguing and his concern with the odd and the marginalized together with his sheer efficacy when dealing with the penumbral and off-kilter material is truly astounding. I've always relished his work and this new book is a real peach. Buy a copy and enjoy.


 

There's a slightly new layout arrangement in this short collection from Peter Dent. Twenty poems, two per page, each poem centred, comprising five lines, with pauses within lines being the key 'line-break'. Thus we have:


7

Lusting for a full set of aftermaths
lent the murder a kind of circularity   to stage
a nightmare or pioneer the second wave?
such questions endeared her to the terraces
via nature's secrets a place on the board


8

How alive you were and how indifferent
only a washed-up thesp could have made
such a debut   with the Greek Revival
discordance wasn't merely acceptable it was
the new harmony   the audience gasped

I love the way that Dent packs in a mass of possible information and leaves the reader to construct his or her narrative from what's given (just read the first sentence in '7' carefully, for example). There's a concern with the theatre and 'the theatrical' here - a common enough refrain in Dent's oeuvre - and with the creating of a new 'reality' or new 'artform' ('discordance' becomes 'harmony'), which feeds back into the 'circularity' of the first line. It's both neatly configured and orderly yet puzzling and satisfyingly nebulous. The variety of language and register can take you off into different directions yet there's an overall smoothness here which is in danger of becoming a style! I doubt this will harden into an entirely predictable pattern though as Dent is a prolific writer who is always seeking new challenge, despite a build-up of formal device which he's developed over the years. I love his stuff and always enjoy reading his new work.

    Steve Spence 2014