a volume that promised on its back cover some "wild entertainment"
and something "blackly comic", Ross Sutherland's "Things To Do
before You Leave Town" begins remarkably and disappointingly flatly (is
it ok to use three adverbs like that, all in a row? I'm not sure......). But
sculpture has been installed
pitch black gallery.
contains a hidden message
between the notes,
found under pillows,
advice into not-too-distant futures.
I'm tempted to dissect these few lines to (a) illustrate what I mean by
"flat" (but if you don't think they're flat then I'm not going to
persuade you, I suspect, and if you do think they're flat, then there's no
need and (b) to suggest that this poet shouldn't harbour dreams of being a novelist.
But I digress, probably. Whatever, "The Message" should end two
lines before the bottom of its first page; to continue a fair way down a
second page is too much, whichever way one looks at it (and I have stood on
my head trying).
I have to say that, having spent a couple of weeks looking at the cover, I'd
expected something pretty volcanic and edgy by the time I got around to
actually reading the poems hiding inside. I wasn't expecting (though I should
have been, come to think of it) a few self-satisfied "fucks" and a
poem about paperboys nor, be it said, poems the like and sound and tone and
the meaning (if there be any) of which I've read before done by other people
and what's the point of doing this stuff over again unless it's for fashion.
God forbid it be "fashion".
Mind you, nobody can claim it's fashionable to make a poem by cutting
up three obituaries and jigging them around to make a poem called
"Autopsy". You could call it optimistic, I suppose. Two and a half
pages of optimism. As for the blackly comic wild entertainment, you'll be
astounded to learn I gave up on that after a couple of pages.
I told you
what was in my heart.
You asked me
to prove it, so
the next day
round the x-ray.
This is how bad things can be. I've tried to find how good things can be, but
that's in another book by someone else.
It's all a little tiresome, to be honest, and something of a waste of time.
There's a kind of half-baked recipe for this kind of half-baked poetry: the
ingredients include some tech-language (like, mention computers),
demonstration of (just about adequate) erudition (like, mention a well-known
philosopher, or something from a Classics class), street language (whatever
that is), popular culture (like, names of actors, songs, whatever), a dash of
what passes these days for "surreal" imagery or setting, some stuff
that's in the news ...... but don't forget to present whatever you cook up in a
standard dish, in a restaurant decorated so as not to upset or offend anyone,
because this is poetry. And come on, even using the word "cunt" and
all its (or her) relatives isn't going to upset anyone now, is it? You might
want to read this book, because then perhaps you can tell me the point of bothering
is more worthwhile with Tamsin Kendrick's "Charismatic Fauna",
although this unexpected praise comes with some reservations, of course. A
product, it seems, of what is apparently "London's vibrant performance
poetry scene" (one of which words may be a slip of the adjective)
Kendrick at least appears to possess something Mr Sutherland seems to lack Ð
I think it's called imagination, though I'm not sure how much of an
imagination it is. Three poems are "about" (I'm not sure that's the
correct or the fair word) Mr Tumnus, who I gather is a character (a faun, no
less; yes, this is the real world) from the Narnia tales. I never went there,
even when my kids were kids, so I'm ill-qualified, etc.
The performance side of things shows through:
started dating him
so I'd have
stuff when I
went to the
but when it's amusing, as this is first time around, then fair enough. I'm
pretty convinced a lot of the lines here would go down a storm with poetry
audiences, because poetry audiences tend to really like poems, generally by
women, that are assertive and take control and put men where we undoubtedly
belong. I have no problem with any of that; I know exactly where I belong, so
you have no need to tell me. Having said which, I'm not sure these poems
actually do that, though at times I'm sure they threaten to, or want to.
The weakness of this collection is the poems that are too obviously
performance-oriented or have their genesis in a desire or even need to be
"performed". Poems don't need to be that; if it's a good poem, it's
a good poem. Culprits include "Ode to Blues & Gin" ("I am
laid down deep under the guitar, the base beat/ and I am trip-hopping and
lip-locking,/ shockingly docking my ship-shape slim curves/ into any open
crotch.") and "Western Front" ("Out! Out! Quick, girls!
An ecstasy of dancing,/ balancing on red wine heels, corkscrew eyes,/ the
ladies negotiate their fronts through the West side// of London.")
The strengths, on the other hand, take you a little by surprise after rubbish
like that, and suggest that this poet (a) needs an editor and (b) needs to
figure out what kind of a poet she wants to be, or is. (Jesus, I sound like a teacher. Thank
God I don't sound like someone who knows what they're talking about.) Anyway,
Have I always
had this tang
on the roof
of my mouth,
A taste of
a nick of
and a haul to
the thin place,
a jerk and an
trace of the sky above
in the place
"To Caesar What is Caesars.")
That the thing about the girls out on the town and this are by the same poet
is somewhat astonishing. What I like about this latter poem is that I don't
understand it. Oh, and it sounds good, too. I don't ask for much, really I