Amazing Differences

MY Atrocity, David Kennedy (Oystercatcher)
MISTRAL, David Kennedy (12pp, 4, Rack Press)

Pamphlets are more enjoyable than collections (discuss). They're less intimidating, easier to approach - and shorter. Better to carry around too; it's often useful to read snippets during an England game or on the bog (of late, similarly rewarding experiences).

Two pamphlets, but there the similarities end...

MY Atrocity is a fabulous piece of work. Highly inventive and energetic, with the balance between linguistic anarchy and control judged perfectly:

    I am strange new holes
     hold MYself
     in the station car park
     MY skull midday sky
     moon scar
     in case I GUSH
     half-puked outlets
     I CAN go off any minute
     because I AM a corrupt packet
     no because I am flooded
     with callings     
     things drop off MY lips
     crawling on ME
     I CAN go home
     it is not a perv nest
     under the sink
     I CAN eat soap         
     drink cleaner

The poems are linked by a controlling sexuality and impersonality - emphasised by the bludgeoning repetition of 'MY' - through scenes from squalid English town centres and internet activity. Public and private space become horribly mangled, and some horrific life-form emerges:

     I AM  a sex mast
     make the streets crackle
     with MY broadcasts
     or stink it up
     running eye water
     with charred oil...
     I AM the private result...
     WLTM and fire up
     trauma queen sex candle
     forgetting is a gift
     that helps ME to
     live perpetual bombardment.
            (from 'Sex Mast')

Kennedy successfully blends internal and external detail, so the lurking urban malaise is framed and absorbed. Throughout, there is a sense of language itself morphing and controlling - even causing - violence. I was partly reminded of
A Clockwork Orange - how Alex's voice becomes increasingly disembodied but paradoxically more affecting.
It's also refreshingly free of name-checking - any hint of dropping in current everyday/street references, just to get a quick hit. Rather, the impression is of something new and genuine being formed, through the language:

     I AM  a maladapted creature
     born of new machineries
     of credit that love ME
     to love ME as a dead object
     in rolling image-text
     not a living system    
     producing poisons even     
     when I LET nothing inside ME
                (from 'Live Wrecking')

The disturbing sense is of the grotesque egocentricity encouraged by new technology, blended with the violent spectacle of its release, onto our urban streets. It seems to me that Kennedy has done something original and very vivid here. Prynne's poetry has, for years, been using vocabulary and concepts from free market economics, but I don't think he has linked it with commonplace but bizarre experiences, triggered in any English town at night; Kennedy's poems here are very rooted, direct - and successfully disturbing. This is 'experimental' work without the least obscurity, or sense of self-satisfaction in its distinctness. Yet it is refreshingly new and energetically alive.


In contrast, Mistral seemed a terrible bore. Poems about Provence, Cezanne, burnt get the picture:

     The brush draws
          the eye upwards
               its strokes sobbing
        and splitting the air
                 (from 'Cezanne; The Rage')

It all seems very predictable, done so many times - David Harsent's terrific Bonnard collection
Marriage sprung to mind.

Moreover, it's an area I obviously know well - I was writer-in-residence at the Dior perfume factory in Grasse, from April to September 2001. If I can beg my loyal reader's indulgence further, here is a poem I wrote, 'Vache Merde', from the pamphlet
Fromage Frais pour les Enfants (Cadaver Press, 2004).

Modesty prevents my mentioning that it has also been widely anthologised - and should feature in the Salt Anthology
Best British Poetry of 2011 (Lumsden permitting).

I now quote from memory:


     Noontime, the droning of cicada,
     I set my easel below the Pont d'Escalope;
     harsh blue light on my sandals.

     Above, winds blow stale odours of Frenchmen,
     three weeks from the wash!

     I too, now an artist, have started to ignore bodily hygiene - 
     grown a goatee beard and worn a filthy smock.

     Oh longeuer, my monsieurs....
     Diabolic and friable - 
     poulet and frites pour le petit chien.

Oh well; we all get our inspiration from somewhere. And what a fantastic pamphlet
MY Atrocity is.

     Paul Sutton  2010