Forty Lies,
John Gallas, illustrated by Sarah Kirby (84pp, 12.95, Carcanet)

I love the illustrations in this book - absolutely beautiful and remind me of the leather prints I used to do in secondary school, only with a lot more craft. In fact the illustrations could easily stand on their own as a collection, but I'm not so sure that the poetry could.

There is a lot going on in this book: and the list goes like this:

A poem shaped like a man
Lists in boxes
Numbers in boxes
Narrative poems
Rhyming poems
Free verse poems

A nice example could be page 54:

          The Rooster Message

     The Rooster is a Lovely Bird.
     He tell the time. He keep his word.

     He glare and struttle like a King
     He peck. He crow. He fight. He sing

     He rule the roost. He wise. He strong.
     He shine like gold. He never wrong//

     He run the wind. He fly like cloud.
     He jump the hens. He loud. He proud.
     O prince of Birds! O splendid-free!
     Take this message! Fly for me.

And my favourite is on page 52 which my keyboard can't replicate but it runs across the page in one waving line:

     Beautiful Apu died. We burned an aeroplane. Black ash-shape.
     It took off with his soul.

I also like the narrative type poems on page 63: (small example, as it is a weighty piece)

     the the the is of everywhere behind Rome. Heaven Forum Spanish Steps
     Palace God Devine Agony clouds rain rain drainpipes sheep cows turnips
     hoods mankind ...

My impression of this book is that it's... well ok but a little uninspiring. It didn't excite me or get the juices going but then I need to be hit over the head with something different. I feel that the poet would like to be more 'experimental' than he has been allowed to be - perhaps due to the incredible ignorance and resistance in the publishing world to anything that looks 'experimental'. And it frustrates me on a daily bases that publishers' fears rule the
rooster as regards to what is released. That the market is flooded with the average for fear that the reader won't get it. I would say to these publishers that if they were to open their minds and take a chance that poetry might just catch up with the rest of the art world. That the done to death has been done to death. That only in poetry are we still replicating 16th century styles and getting away with it. That the readers' taste buds need the curry powder spooned in - and ya know what the British fish and chip brigade might just like it. You might even get them trying sushi on a revolving belt in a neon fantasia up-side-down strapped to a plastic bucket.

Yet this book is a fair shout and the illustrations with it make it 'interesting' and that's as far as it moves me (sorry please don't hate me).

         James McLaughlin 2010