More than fourteen lines

, Camille Martin (108pp, £8.95, Shearsman)


When I first read the title Sonnets my experimentalist conditionings began to freeze frame as if hit by a medieval Petrarchan truck driven by a deranged and groping John Donne. 'Oh no, holy sonnets,' I'm thinking, recalling a rather dry lecture on the vagaries and wonders of the Italian job as opposed to the Spenserian job. I'm remembering counting iambs and pentameters and recalling the rules: first eight lines of octave abbaabba - followed by six lines or 'sestet'. I'm shouting to the mirror 'Milton thou thoudest be living at this hour!'; I'm calling to the God of Shakespeare 'Shall I compare thee to a summer's day!'; I'm saying 'look Stella we can't go into this right now'. I calm down and have a few Saint John's and a Cap Colombie. Then I'm thinking no! It's an experimentalist ruse, subterfuge, scam, deception, ploy, stunt - as the thesaurus offers: that it won't be real sonnets but just fourteen lines of true experimentalist experimentation to experiment with. Aaaaand no it's not this either - but something quite unique.

If you are familiar with Camille Martin's work: the collages, the poems, the essays, the interests, the troubled experiences, then you will know that you don't need to count to fourteen over and over or do the ab's ab's till the six pack glistens. And that its Sonnets Jim but not as we know it.

is exciting. 'Hey were talkin poetry here' I hear you say. 'Aye yir rite' I say in my best Glaswegian - 'so whit reel men kin get excited aboot wurds'. Is that a hoodie with a blade I see before me.

The first thing that you notice about Camille's sonnets is how good looking they appear on the page - as sonnets do - nothing quite has the class of a sonnet. Details I like: not using a capital letter lets the reader walk right onto the beautiful lawn without jumping the capital letter fence - (you metaphor tart! )

But lines! Beautiful lines everywhere. EVERYWHERE.

I love this:


     footfalls on snow pass other footfalls.
     underfoot, furrows crisscross the sleeping

and, from IX:

     disoriented moths flutter toward quivering red
     dwarves. spring's quivering sheen dances
     over a meadow's candytufts. scribes afflicted
     with dancing plague trace the air in scribbles legible
     to their hearts alone. across the sky streaks a molten mass
     of gold orchestrating fragile heartbeats

A good dose of alliteration which is interesting - if not unsurprising given Camille's musical training - and as we know sonnet means song. Here is a return to traditional poetic device - sonnet, alliteration, metaphor: but it all looks so modern so 'experimental' in a traditional way.
The word that comes to mind is craft. The poet has seen - no the poet has taken the magnifying glass to the world: she has thought long and hard and she has applied. The physical becomes 'cognitionized' and is transposed  into the metaphysical of art and advanced in a post modernist stream, as a conscript. We have an example
of the basis of an attempt to describe a condition, or a state of being, or something concerned with changes to institutions and conditions.

And there is more than beautiful lines and incredible poetic craft - there is the 'internal': driven by the poet's readings in cognitive science which is
applied in a stream of experimentalist nuance and guile:

     if only memory held the key. if traces were the key to grammar
     not yet grammar. if the brute sound waves of jackhammers
     were a way to witness. the memory of brutes is brutes
     remembering or som
ething remembering brutes. cleaving
     or cleaving to. typical, like photographs imagining they capture
     perfect moods. just perfect, think the photographs
     as they capture brute space. they feel limited. if only they had
     perfect readers to rescue them, though readers are unreliable
     witnesses. they limit, they garble. they cannot rescue all
     their moments.'

And my favourite poem, 'XXXXX':




sun was enamoured of the
that most, if not all,
the apples of the world have a sweet
"i'll lower my bucket," said the sun, "which
vast enough to hold the ruddiest apple of
apple tree beneath my path." the sun
into the first apple it saw as soon
the bucket returned. but the apple's meaning proved
for the sun. its rays turned the apple, as red
the reddest sunset, into ashes whose significance
sun was unable to fathom. in fact, the very
of the meaning
the once-rosy apple eluded the overheated
of the sun, consumed as it was by the problem.


There is pain here. The poet speaks to the unloved maybe the unlovable - the inside job, a being who belongs somewhere else. Identity is an issue for speculation, as is love. These sonnets offer an insight into potential. There are queries, confrontations, songs of praise, and the existential:

     i dissipate when you need
     me most--what am i?
     i dig in when you
     most need to be alone
     with your regret--what
     am i? maybe you won't mind
     if i just leave you
     clawing the air--what am
     i?  '

Apart from the internal there are other themes and influences: some of the sonnets are inspired by sources such as nursery rhymes ("glasshouse chimes"), street names ("the street names of toronto") and her dream journals ("on merest sand"), for example:

     glasshouse chimes


     this is the tune that paper sang.
     these are the words that graced the tune
     that paper sang. this is the loom
     that wove the words that graced the tune
     that paper sang.

     the street names of toronto


     a great benefactor, you planted more fruit trees
     in the aftermath of your tragic death than during
     your expansive life. you discovered gold
     and had music piped in. and then your name lost an “e”
     in a fencing accident.

     on merest sand


     the levee of the mississippi, high
     as a mountain ridge. the path, slippery, laced
     with puddles. how small, human-sized
     the vast river seems from this vantage point.
     how ironic it'd be, drowning in a puddle imagining
     the undertow of the mississippi. the levee
     slopes down closer to the banks.

is a delightful body of work. Even though we wander into the oblique there is never alienation because the words are too beautiful, the experience perhaps too pained, too accurate and weighted. We might be slightly or even much excluded but it's like being chastised by a temperate being; we come up against the word unconditional and it's charm and gentleness - and total power overwhelm. And there is a deep connection with the reader at every turn and aspect of the physical and emotional. Here a blood transfusion has been administered into the Shearsman veins and it's application breaths life and vibrancy into its avant-garde vision:

What we have is another
pushing of the boundaries of what is accepted as the norm or the status quo. The notion of the existence of the avant-garde is considered by some to be a hallmark of modernism, as distinct from postmodernism, but for the life of me who cares what 'ism' we have; for the fact is in the experience and the experience here is joy and satisfaction.

I also feel that in Sonnets
there is has a restless energy that is holding back ready surge into another spectacular sequence of experimentalist arias.

Bring it on.

      © James Mc Laughlin 2010