The Crossing of Paths
Imagined Sons, Carrie Etter
Default Soul, Tim Allen (Red
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:
through a stand of trees, sunlight sprinkling the path as
the canopy of
leaves shifts, rustling, with breezes. Coming out on
side, I'm not surprised to see no people, no one visible in
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:
you let him go?
A man carves
my name into granite with hammer and chisel
you let him go?
grandmother's hair was never white
you let him go?
cannot be lifted off its hinges
you let him go?
Take two of
my ribs to make a fire
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
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:
misery in mid afternoon sun
a door opens
with only noon to open it
a veil of
offshore charity drones
performers gather under a bemused lamppost
geometry from the sisters of Tokyo
sharks in a street near the harbour
copy on the bench with Viv Stanshall
out there's a ready-made carnival
lingered later than our breakfast
feasting on a
breakfast of insomnia's true stories
real light is
a collaborative effort
parade of starfish with nose bleeds
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
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:
repugnants and one particularly lovely,
bored the stiff with them?
tradition they chew bliss.
cuisine with overactive machete
and now my
birth certificate rearranges
candidate, deep respect massage.
buildings refuse to shut
press that almost brought
prayers succumb to early species
mercy, a regular
remnant of a unique cocoon.
It pays to
know what early flavours uttered
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:
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
How alive you were and how indifferent
only a washed-up thesp could have made
such a debut with the
discordance wasn't merely acceptable it was
the new harmony the
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
'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