Some Brilliant Psychosis    


Lobe Scarps & Finials, Geraldine Monk (130pp, Leafe Press)


To compare poets of today with poets of the past is easy, and it is an easy way to write a review of something that is so infinitely fascinating that you cannot find your own words for it. I found this with Geraldine Monk's new collection, Lobe Scarps & Finials. I really wanted to compare her to something Dada, something logopoeic, someone like her, someone who she is like - but to compare seemed to be insulting. Geraldine Monk is not the new anything, not the next anyone - she is just Geraldine Monk, a writer and a  genre in her own right. I wondered when reading this, perhaps, if one day a poet might be described as 'Monkian'.

I at first saw these poems as little shapes. Not that the poetry relies on its visuals, rather that they themselves were so dense with language that at a first, casual glance they seemed like little building blocks of language. That was my error - Monk's are not poems that can be glanced at. This is only a good thing. However, this made me think about how when we are young we look at language in blocks, the formation of words on flash-cards is how we learn, and how it almost felt as if Monk's shapes themselves were helping me to learn language in a brand new way, in the Monkian way. Just like the first time I read Clockwork Orange, I had to quickly acclimatise to Monk's world and way of speaking.

In the first stanza of 'January':

     I suppose it's time we apologised to
     Mr & Mrs Neanderthal for
     dashing out their yam noodles against
     their last cave of
     pots and lipgloss

It is hard to avoid drawing comparisons here and though this is a loose one, immediately I was drawn to this poem's Dadaist flow. Whilst it uses surrealist imagery it does not feel unfamiliar, nor does it even trip up over itself. It felt fluid and largely it feels subjective to each reader. For me to spend a paragraph or two explaining what I think this means would be insulting, to me, to you the reader, and to Monk herself.

The poem continues in the same way, the images getting more supernatural as the piece progresses and indeed the supernatural is the celebrity of this collection. As it goes:

     Hey! Archaeopteryx.
     Urvogel.
     What on earth in heaven's
     name are you doing here in
     my inner city window?

The mention of Urvogel is vivid - Urvogel being the oldest know example of a bird, whose specimen resembles an angel. Monk is suggesting the prehistorical world and the present world can coexist, and the stars and the moon that fleck this poem are the binding bringing these impossible worlds together, and indeed this clever vocabulary is nestled unpretentiously in the childish, pleasing tautology of 'what on earth in heaven's / name'.

This is a technique Monk settles comfortably with throughout the rest of book, for example, in 'March':

     Lion. Yes you! You're on.
     Come on in nithering
     rampant rump ball
     sockets sunk in a
     wall of florid teeth

Here one might think back to early English lessons where we learnt about alliteration for the first time and felt delighted every time we spotted it. I felt like a giddy child when I read all of these words, it  was like a playbook. I like this juxtaposition, I like how Monk can make language seem at once serious, silly, fun, thoughtful, provocative, adult, and childish. Such as in 'August':


     from nothing came nowt - the

     solar max threw a wobbler-    
    
She can use colloquialism to such powerful effect and in a way that is completely necessary. To write without it would be needlessly 'proper' and Monk's command of language is so breathtakingly relatable that everything she does already proper, and she does not need to shy away from using this language, at the risk of seeming gratuitous.     

In fact, Monk even progresses delightfully to her own made up words, in 'All My Sea' she uses the words 'liverwinds' and 'kindazzle' to communicate with her reader, and it made me think about the sea at Blackpool where I spent my Summers, and it made me think about when I visit Blackpool now as an adult. Not a sad nostalgia, but a thoughtful one, a welcome nostalgia found in every day experiences.

There is a theme of childhood throughout this book, as well as the theme of the supernatural. Maybe at points the book feels a little frustrating in its lack of an absolute goal or direction, but that could also be what makes the collection so charming. I was confused in 'Part Two' of the book where Monk draws upon a Lord Byron quote for inspiration - it didn't fit, and the message I didn't feel was strong enough to justify the task of using one of our dusty, old Romantics and attempting to pull a new sentiment out of his dusty, old Romantic words. Maybe it just felt too easy, but seeing Byron's name in this book felt as alien as seeing Monk's name in one of Byron's would be. She pulls off the task of drawing together old and new worlds successfully throughout - the mention of Byron felt transparent, unnecessary, and even perhaps patronising to the reader. There is a love poem tucked away in the back of the book which is perfectly charming. I feel this sentiment was beautiful alone, as it was a loved-up anomaly to the collection. This alone would have sufficed and been delightful. With Byron's name still scratched on the earlier pages, it felt a bit disappointing.

However, this is a collection which reaches its reader on a subconscious, nostalgic level and sparkles and glimmers on the page. Reading this book was almost like some brilliant psychosis; in fact everything sparkles and glimmers in some way in Monk's world and it is hard not to find it in your own world after reading. It is not cute, it is not whimsical, it is not wry and witty, but it is strange, and it is beautiful, and it is simple.     
    
        Sian S. Rathore 2011