Reviews of the Ephemeral

Archive for January, 2012|Monthly archive page

Tongue Fu @ Rich Mix 12/01/2012

In Performance Poetry on January 28, 2012 at 5:12 pm

-reviewed by Paul Askew

Tongue Fu‘s concept: Invite writers to perform with a live band improvising along.

I’ll admit I was somewhat dubious, as my only previous encounter of such a thing was on a late night BBC2 live jazz series in the mid 1990’s, when the presenter performed some “jazz poetry” while improvising with his piano trio. It was cringeworthy, and this is when I was a teenager, writing and enjoying cringeworthy poetry myself (come on, you all did that too, don’t pretend you didn’t), so for me to not like it then, it must’ve been REALLY bad.

And that was the image I had in my head when I tried to imagine what this gig was going to be like.

The noticeable and crucial thing though, the music worked.

(Here’s how they do it. Before each piece the performer has a brief chat with the band to tell them the themes, or what kind of thing they’d like the band to play. The musicians, clearly very competent improvisers, almost always end up playing something that fits what’s being performed.)

Tongue Fu is hosted by Chris Redmond, who started the night off with a “Prayer” poem that started in outer space and ended in the room we were in, hoping for the best from the night’s performers.

The First Half:

  •   Tim Clare. His first poem was about being drunk and trying to make people like you. It was a witty account of the kind of things we’ve all done when that boozed up little voice in your head says things like “Hey, you know what would be a great idea? Get your knob out and dip it in that guy’s pint. Yeah, that’ll impress them!” It was “Aren’t we all ridiculous,” rather than “Oh, woe is me,” which kept it funny.
  • He followed it with a poem about how we should all be kinder to ourselves that started off sounding like the Baz Luhrmann song “Everybody’s Free To Wear Sunscreen,” but became more unhinged as it went on. This was cleverly mirrored by the music becoming looser and less structured, which shows how good Tongue Fu’s concept is when it gets it right.
  • Tongue Fu’s poet in residence, Shane Solanki was next. He did a fairly long retelling of the nativity that reminded me of John Lennon’s poetry, he took a familiar tale and replaced words for comic or political effect (the three wise men became women, Thursday became “Parklife by Blur-day,” etc.). It switched between being an amusing, modernised version of the familiar story, and an anti-war political commentary.
  • I have to say, if it hadn’t been for the accompanying music, I would’ve probably found it a tad annoying and a bit too long, but as Solanki wrote it specifically for this night, with the intention of it being set to music, it worked well. Another point scored for the Tongue Fu concept.
  • Malika Booker finished off the first half: her first, described as a “Homage to Brixton”, was a straightforward depiction of everyday city life with dub backing from the band. It sounded like a Linton Kwesi Johnson track, in a good way.
  • The next poems were tributes to her family. The first, a dream in which she performs with some dead relatives in the audience before they all have dinner together, was a tad clichéd for my liking (a flower is used as a metaphor for love, a knife as a metaphor for pain). The second, about trying to restore the faith an aunt has lost while in hospital, was far more original and interesting.

The Second Half:

  • Began with Chris Redmond doing a poem about the time he got his own poo in his eye. No, really. It was like a formal poetry version of a Judd Apatow film. It went down a storm.
  • Malika Booker returned with a poem about the strength of women through the generations of her family, and was the first rare instance of the music not working.
  • This was followed by a poem constructed of quotes from her mother. It did an old trick well: starting humorous before a well judged switch in tone, which led to a poignant ending.
  • Tim Clare came back with a poem/rant against teenagers, both now and when he was a teen.
  • Then the highlight of the night: a series of hip-hop verses as various famous women from history. It was very cleverly done and hilarious.
  • Last act of the night was Martin Shaw. A storyteller, rather than a poet, he finished the night off with an extended myth-like tale, which starts as a deal-with-the-devil story before following the daughter of said deal maker in some sort of I’ve-gone-mad-because-my-Dad-cut-my-hands-off-and-I’ve-lived-in-a-forrest-for-years-and-oh-look-a-king’s-going-to-fall-in-love-with-me. Then the king goes off to war, she has a baby, Devil comes back to shake things up, they separately end going to the same pub (years apart form each other, of course). Then they get married. Then her hands grow back.
  • (Then I bit my own hands off out of sheer boredom. Seriously. I’m typing this review with bleeding stumps, but it’s okay. I’ll just find a pub full of people from all the stories ever told in the world and then somehow they’ll just grow back. No biggie.)
  • This story should be rewritten as a novel. Or even a novella. Then there would be enough space to properly deal with everything that comes up. As it is, Martin tries to fit too much into too short a time and it comes across as scrappy and half baked. This wasn’t helped by him stopping the band every minute or so, which just served to highlight the lack of narrative flow.
  • It split opinion in the audience though. Some seemed to really enjoy it, some left while he’d been performing.

Overview

  • As Chris Redmond said at the beginning, the night itself is an experiment. And sadly, that means it won’t always work. On the whole, the night really won me over: the central idea of spoken word with live improv backing gave it a unique feel, and the charisma of the other performers had made it really fun. I would definitely say that this is a night worth going to.
Advertisements

‘Bugsworth Diary’ by Neil Campbell

In Pamphlets on January 25, 2012 at 10:00 am

-Reviewed by Ian Chung

Bugsworth Diary

A strong sense of place pervades the poems in Neil Campbell’s Bugsworth Diary, published by The Knives Forks and Spoons Press. In an interview with Irish writer Nuala Ní Chonchúir for her blog Women Rule Writer, Campbell remarks, ‘I write poems sometimes, entirely on instinct. Landscape is playing an increasing role in both [my poetry and fiction]. In fact, all my poems are nature poems really.’ In the same way that Egdon Heath behaves like a character in Thomas Hardy’s The Return of the Native, Campbell’s chapbook is dominated by the natural environment of Derbyshire and the Peak District, as the poet chronicles (all of the poems are dated) moments spent in its surroundings.

Birds are one of the creatures that constantly pop up in these poems. In particular, jackdaws seem to recur the most, with what they signify changing slightly with each (re)appearance. Early on in the sequence, they are a thwarted expectation: ‘Waiting for jackdaws / It’s a raven that comes first’ (‘Black Roses over Portobello’). In ‘Black Brook Heron’, around the middle of Bugsworth Diary, they have become something that can be counted upon, a cyclical pattern of nature (‘Contemplating the return / Of jackdaws at dusk’). As the poems emerge from ‘previous months of winter light’ (‘Jackdaw Fly-Past’), the poet develops a keener awareness of the particularity of this bird:

So close that for the first time

I could appreciate the silver

On their necks, missed at a distance

And mistaken for black

In previous months of winter light.

Although they make appearances in subsequent poems, ‘Jackdaws on Election Day’ feels like the culmination of this species’ trajectory in this chapbook. The poem is dated May 6th, 2010, polling day for the UK election that ultimately saw the current Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition gain power. The jackdaws are transformed into a figure of consolation for the poet (‘I didn’t know what to do, where to put myself / And I was drawn to the jackdaws at dusk’), and this is predicated upon the element of reliability already established by the earlier poems (‘I had watched them so many times before’). Interestingly though, the poem ends with the emphasis of this expectation of reassurance, rather than its fulfilment: ‘I saw there and like never before needed them / To lift from the trees that second time.’

This deferral is suggestive, especially when read against a poem like ‘What We Look For In Animals’, one of the shortest poems in Bugsworth Diary. Given its title, the poem reads like a warning against ascribing too much significance to nature and its patterns. The ‘woman next door’ and the cows do not appear to interact, and although the cows ‘look at her curiously’, they do so ‘While dropping great quantities of shit’, completely undermining any attempt at poeticising the moment. By the next stanza, they ‘turn away and follow each other / To the other side of the field’, while another stanza later, the woman ‘goes inside’, retreating from an abortive encounter with nature. To call this rejection on the cows’ part would only be to fall into the same trap of investing the animals with human agency. What they display would better be described as indifference.

Yet this indifference cannot run both ways. While nature’s cycles can affect human activities (think natural disasters), they also carry on regardless of us (think seasons), whereas human activities are constantly modifying the natural world, practically inviting interference from it at times (think flooding of seafront residences). This is brought home most forcefully by Campbell in the final portion of ‘Chinley Chernobyl’:

I had been enjoying

My Monday morning until the

Part when I came upon

A demolished factory littered

Around the base of a still

Standing though condemned

Chimney. And I realised that

Something resembling a disaster

Resided among these green hills.

Later that night some damp wood

I’d put on the fire began

To stink, and I wondered what

I might be breathing.

The alliteration of the title and ‘Chimney’ points out the industrial aspect of the ‘disaster / Resid[ing] among these green hills’. The sound of ‘demolished’ finds an echo within ‘condemned’, with the consonantal ‘d’ carried over into ‘disaster’, and later, ‘damp wood’, as if infecting and contaminating the latter. Those final lines highlight how the threat emanating from nature can in a way be an unanticipated punishment brought down upon ourselves for our inability to leave nature alone. That said, on the whole Bugsworth Diary did not particularly strike me as an attempt at environmental activism via poetry. What it did seem to be was a heartfelt celebration of the refuge that nature can still provide for the human psyche, if we learn to just be in it and allow it to do its work, as opposed to us trying to work it.

‘Living Room Stories’ by Andy Harrod

In anthology, Object, Short Stories on January 18, 2012 at 4:39 pm

-Reviewed by Rory O’Sullivan–

Living Rooms Stories is the literary sister of a set of instrumental tracks by Icelandic composer Olafur Arnalds (Living Room Songs), for which he recorded a piece a day for seven days in his Reykjavik apartment. Andy Harrod’s literary counterpart comprises of short stories, each influenced by one of Arnalds’ compositions, following a couple as they contend with their own and each other’s emotions.

Arnald’s music (consisting largely of piano arrangements that accompany delicate violin, viola and cello performances) is inspiring, and I feel it would be a struggle to not pen something of real quality off the back of it. But it’s having the idea to set it to ‘story’ in the first place that makes Harrod’s endeavours all the more fabulous.

Living Room Stories is thus a highly original project. And you sense this before reading a single word: each story is written on the back of square card and they are presented in a neat vinyl record sleeve that is a nod to the collection’s musical influence.

Living Room Stories, Andy Harrod, reviewed for Sabotage by Rory O'Sullivan

On the piece of card that introduces the collection, Harrod tells us that Arnald’s first song, Fyrsta, “flowed through me; I pictured a couple, I felt love’’. The corresponding story, ‘beginnings’, raises the curtain beautifully for what follows.

We are presented with a scene where a woman is standing below the glow of a street lamp at night. There is a strong feeling of unease. She looks towards the lights of the city further down the hill and, immediately, we are left wondering how she ended up here. Tantalising clues are offered, however:

Turning her focus onto the rain, she notices how it glitters in the light before softly
disturbing the puddle at her feet, reflecting her worn out shoes.
Memories of chalkboards, puzzles and a bearded face fill her.

Allowing a character to recall memories in this way is a rather Proustian device, and is something that features prominently in the stories. Memories are stirred up frequently, summoning emotions – nearly always negative ones – that give these stories their thrust. In ‘month eight’, past torment is roused by the sight of a soft toy cat: “its neck squashed and bare through a desire for safety; a desire for a love that won’t bind and abuse.”

Memory of the past and its role in the present is clearly important to Harrod. In ‘the third person’ music is the instrument of memory recall and provides a direct invitation to the reader to consider the role of the past and how it affects the characters: “she hears the sweep of bows across strings in her head, repeating, repeating. It plucks at her memories”. The story develops in order to follow her thoughts at this point and, by now, a picture of a very troubled soul is being painted.

‘light’ is perhaps the most optimistic of all the stories. Moving on through time, and after stories that chart the couple’s wedding (‘together’) and hosting a gathering with friends (‘home’), ‘light’ winds the clock on even more and we are introduced to their children. As the brother and sister play in the snow with their green balloon (a scene that is described superbly in the opening paragraph), we are told:

Their mother smiles at their playfulness and how simple life can be.

Nearby, the father crosses the finishing line in some sort of race:

His body strains with effort, but it doesn’t hide his smile or the enjoyment in his eyes.
He blows her a kiss as he crosses the line. Looking up he laughs at his children
sliding down the hill.

He never thought that these days would be his.

Beautiful. What’s more, its juxtaposition within a rather downcast narrative (in terms of the whole ensemble) makes this story all-the-more positive. There is, however, an ominous feel at this point. Like Arnalds’ corresponding song, Near Light, something is missing. Perhaps, deep down, the couple aren’t truly at one yet with their happiness and that closure remains a distant goal. The imperfect cadence at end of the song compounds this. Something isn’t right, and imperfection seems to supersede absolute positivity.

Over the course of the collection there are no names, no places. Yet somehow the stories feel so ‘real’. Attachment to objects is limited because of the absence of proper nouns, and this heightens the sense that the emotions explored in the stories are universal and not only confined to the characters who illustrate them. Related to this is Harrod’s extraordinary ability to attach a lyrical and poetic quality to his descriptions.

He likes to give us detail, to invite us into a scene, image or setting. This feels all the more deliberate when you consider that each story weighs in at a mere 15 lines on average, making references to detail all the more meaningful. What is the significance of the mulled wine glass, the ash from her cigarette, the child’s green balloon? Parochial detail is abundant and helps make the characters and their emotions as real as possible.

The order of Arnald’s original pieces has been cleverly re-aligned in order to create a saddening history of our couple. It is more than simply a like-for-like, ‘story for each song’, rehashing of the Icelander’s collection. Rather, it is an artistic interpretation, a beautiful tribute to a fellow artist’s work, and represents an innovative means of finding inspiration.

At its heart, Living Room Stories is a study of love and emotion, characterised by the torment, heartache and hope that consumes our couple.“The focus was on love, love as destructive when conditional … and love as healing when truly unconditional. I wanted to keep this theme uncluttered, for without love I fear we are nothing”, Harrod tells me.

What a collection this is. It would be no exaggeration to say that I have not taken pleasure out of a reading ‘experience’ quite like this before. I think that this was helped by reading each story aloud while listening to the corresponding piece from Arnalds’ collection. Harrod’s work should be regarded as a new form that calls on influences from literature, poetry and music. This project is a stunning marriage of the three, and I cannot wait to see what comes next.

Performance Poet Spotlight # 2 Henry Bowers

In Performance Poetry on January 8, 2012 at 12:17 am

– by James Webster

Henry Bowers is awesome. A spoken word artist who burns with passions, spitting intricate and affecting rhymes, coming at familiar themes from odd angles that are often filled with disaffection and anger. And are really fun.

In October I had the thoroughly enjoyable experience of seeing Henry twice at Hammer and Tongue Camden and Oxford events. Here’s a bit about Henry:

Background

He’s a hip-hop artist as well as a poet, having started writing hip-hop aged 10, and his music is available on CD and vinyl and for download from his website. He began performing poetry in the 90’s and started slamming in the early 2000’s.

He’s won a slew of slam competitions (in Swedenand internationally) and placed highly in many more, appeared at various festivals and high-profile poetry slam events, and frequently tours internationally. Full details on his website.

His hip-hop shows apparently often include elements of his spoken word, and his spoken word shows seem to contain elements of his rap (if you listen to his music, a lot of the same lyrics are used for both songs and poems) and the focus on the quality and poeticism of his language really shines in both.

Poetry

Apparently some people tell him “Henry, you write some pretty good poems” to which his response is that he knows: he’s a Swedish and European slam champion, you don’t need to tell him he’s good. But I’m going to say it at least one more time: Henry Bowers writes some amazing poems.

My favourite is ‘Stories forSale’ a beautifully crafted piece about a boy, a kind of waif-prophet ignored by the masses, selling stories to survive on the street. The poem speaks of disenfranchisement, of poverty and of grasping onto what you love to do in the worst of circumstances. It’s like listening to words laced with fire, building up this character burning with the words he wants to share, who “lives more in one day than we do in our lives”.

‘I’m all Outta Dog Food’ is another cracker. It’s impressively put together, with flowing rhyme keeping it moving through his unique phraseology, he seems to be creating words and music for the disaffected masses, it’s “poetry to make the mad sane, or drive the sane mad … depends how you look at it”. It’s a poem that dances over a wealth of imagery and topics, without ever landing, but giving you the feeling of summing up an aspect of existence.

And ‘I Like Darkness’ gives you a plethora of examples of his wicked wit. A list of things in life he actually likes (as he’s accused of being too negative), that starts with “I like DARKNESS, not evil, just the absence of light/ I like movies in black and white/ Not without colour, just with diametric opposites”. It’s a great list, creating a kind of quirky canon of himself out of his likes and ending in the pathos-inducing “and I’m slowly starting to like myself too”. Which is strange, as it took all of one poem for the audience to realise they loved him.

Delivery 

And his delivery is amazing. A lot of his poems are available as hip-hop tracks (available from his website, they excellent), but when delivered as spoken word they sound very different. He is very engaging, oozing laid back charisma and his easy-going stage presence a surprising contrast to sometimes frenetic performance.

Take his ‘Party Rhyme’ the one attempt he’s made at writing a ‘party song’ as he sometimes feels that, as a hip-hop artist, he should do more of. He introduces it with the amusing line “So anyone here listened to the radio … Oh, I feel sorry for you, you shouldn’t have done that.” And he means rhyme literally here, it’s just one rhyme. “Throw your hands in the air like they’re not attached/ then realise that without hands, they’ll be hard to catch.” He says it in faux-party style, initial enthusiasm quickly fading as you get to the punch-line.

Or ‘Night Time’ where he gleefully storms through the end times, fast and furious rhymes matching his joyfulness at his desire to bring the world to and end with his words as he was “born with the ability to destroy the world”. With superb imagery and machine-gun delivery, it’s powerful stuff expressed powerfully; and when he tells us “Doomsday’s even better live!” I believe him wholeheartedly. And the line “You all spit metaphors, while I spit meta-fives” is priceless. As a rule, he comes off as Robin Williams re-imagined as a street preacher.

It’s probably quite telling that even when he does poems in Swedish and the audience have no clue what he’s on about, it’s still frighteningly compelling. In “Take Us to Your Leader”, he sets the scene of an alien coming down from the sky in clouds of green smoke in English first (making it clear it’s ok that we don’t understand, the English just don’t learn other languages, “it’s not your fault you’re arrogant”) and by the time he starts the audience is already rapt. And stays so. Through a whole poem in a language they don’t understand (except for the odd words like “brie and camembert” which gets a laugh solely on recognition). He’s just that entertaining. He’s also a disturbingly convincing alien.

To sum up, he’s a ferociously entertaining and thought-provoking performer. Blending the personal and the social/political and managing to preach without sounding preachy, I heartily advise you to see him if you can. And if you can’t, go to his website and buy his music (he does let you download it for free, but I think you should buy it: it’s worth it).

Last Sage & Time of 2011

In Performance Poetry, Seasonal/End of year on January 5, 2012 at 1:59 am

@ the Charterhouse Bar, 16/11/2011

– reviewed by Koel Mukherjee –

Review of the last Sage and Time of 2011

This was my third time at Sage and Time, and the last event of the year, and that sense of community, supportiveness and general good humour that makes this event so special was very much in evidence, with poets referencing each other and the event itself in their pieces, and plenty of laughs throughout the night.

Hosting:

  • Hosting duties were split between accomplished poets Richard Marsh and Anna Le (both members of the Dirty Hands poetry collective), and the obvious friendship and sense of fun between these two set the tone for a relaxed and welcoming night.
  • Richard Marsh kicked the night off with a sweet, whimsical tale of two misfits who find love at the gym. His characters were touchingly relatable and vividly rendered by a fluid, engaging delivery. As a host, he’s charming, always taking the time to compliment and engage with each performance, picking out a line he likes, or making a friendly joke.

  • Anna Le hosted the second half, and as always I was struck by the obvious passion with which she introduces performers. Her introductions are both a rousing welcome, and a great anticipation-builder.
  • She performed a piece of her own called “Spine”, which I loved, an exploration of courage, fear and determination animated by a mesmerising delivery that used dynamics and careful pacing to great effect.

Open mic highlights:

  • Stephanie Dogfoot’s ‘Equus’ was a wonderful expression of sisterly love and support. It had its share of serious, grown-up emotional content, but masterfully set against the surreal backdrop of childhood –the bizarre worlds that people who have grown up together create, complete with burnt teddybears and clown phobias. Through this lens of shared imaginings she made the serious, adult crisis at the heart of the poem achingly poignant: A surreal exploration of the intense, enduring, and weird nature of sibling love.
  • Donall Dempsey’s ‘A Bridge Is Only A Bridge When…’ imagined a woman’s parting words at the end of an unpleasant marriage. The elegantly phrased poem compared the failed relationship to the striking image of a “half-built bridge, silhouetted by sunset” but “startlingly surreal in its unfinishedness”. He also performed an intimate tribute to his partner Janice’s philtrum (the little cleft between your nose and lip, non-anatomists!), re-imagining it beautifully as “the indent left by the finger of God.”
  • The Janice in question was Janice Windle, whose own pieces were imbued with an elegant, conversational delivery.  One of them was a companion piece to Donall’s, which declared, “I’m in love with your mandible, darling” which concluded an affectionate exchange.
  • Among James Webster’s pieces was an unexpectedly touching musing on his ideal superpower. He would choose to be “quietly super”, with the power to find lost things, especially people. Acknowledging that he wouldn’t be able to take them home, he’d be glad, at least, to “give them someone to talk to”.
  •  Amy Acre’s gorgeously life-affirming “love poem to the sea” was one of my favourites.  “As old men talk to their dogs”, she talks to the sea, and the sea both sets her free and inspires her to love of all the messy wonder of life; from dandelions and dragonflies to the delight of Sage and Time itself. It was intensely sensual and personal; proclaiming the “red earth” as her church, she let us glimpse her relationship with the world. And did so with a graceful, inspiring passion that made me want to run to the nearest beach, take my clothes off and dance around naked in the sea.
  • During Keith Jarrett’s inspiring performance of ‘Parting Words’ I had to work to keep my tearducts from boiling over into undignified spillage. Masterful use of repetition and assonance gave the piece a mesmerising, mantra-like quality, while his quietly determined delivery complemented his perfectly measured pacing. A resolutely optimistic self-reminder to not be defined or limited by one’s postcode, by one’s past, or one’s fear of the future – something I’m sure most of us need from time to time. Keith Jarrett is awesome.

Featured Performers:

  • The first featured poet of the night was Sh’maya, an engaging performer whose first piece was a meditation on ancestry, history and loneliness developed from the image of a tap-dancing boy on city streets, rendered with a passionate, electrifying delivery and skilfully imbued with a sense of urgency and movement.
  • Sh’maya’s second poem was about a quest to find the most beautiful word in the world. His protagonist imagined travelling around the world, meeting different people who suggested different words with special meaning to them and their lives. Full of potential, but the poem was seriously hobbled by the cliché-riddled depictions of some of the characters, which often verged on patronising stereotype. The worst offender was a depiction which verged on romanticising suffering: a childless woman standing on a Kenyan beach looking yearningly out to sea, clinging to the hope of a child, proclaiming the most beautiful word to be ‘yearn’. As if she (and therefore, the poet) were revelling in her misery. The problem was not the attempt to give a voice to diverse characters, but that they did not sound like real people with real ugly and beautiful life experiences, rather, magical props placed where they were for the sole purpose of providing Sh’maya’s protagonist with a story (and in the woman’s case, a means of transport). This was intensely problematic.
  • The second featured act, Anthony Joseph, was new to me. And he blew me away.
  • Joseph read pieces from his collection Bird Head Son, “an autobiography in verse”, and a few more from his latest, Rubber Orchestras. His poems ranged from touching character portraits, memories of childhood and experimental jazz-poetry, to musings on family heritage and history against the backdrop of colonialism. A prose excerpt about a future colony of Afro-Caribbean people on an alien planet, from his novel The African Origins of UFO, was infused with vivid detail that brought to life the Caribbean cultural roots of the community while retaining the extra-terrestrial, futuristic strangeness of the setting (where exist such wonders as “surrealist butter”).
  • His startling, inventive use of language, vibrant musical delivery and persistently brilliant animation of memory, place and history were a constant delight.

Sum-up:

Anthony Joseph (the crowning moment of the night for me) talked about the need for poetry to be more than flat words on a page, to be alive and affecting, and like all good poetry events, this night of Sage and Timey goodness was full of that. Brisk-moving waves of poets inviting the room into their worlds. While not every performer was as compelling as Anthony, the night was still packed with strong, inventive voices (not all of whom I could mention here sadly) and by the end of it I was filled up with poetry – with language, ideas and glimpses into people’s personal universes, their senses of humour, their stories, the inside of their brains and hearts and marrow. A fitting finale to Sage and Time’s 2011.

‘The of of the film of The book and The of of the book of The film’ by Ryan Ormonde

In Pamphlets on January 1, 2012 at 3:26 pm

-Reviewed by Rosie Breese

 As its title suggests, this pleasingly compact pamphlet from the Knives, Forks and Spoons Press begins with a discussion and questioning of different media/forms of the word – no mean feat when restricting oneself to print on paper. As with previous pamphlets from this innovative publisher, the result is wonderfully unpredictable; a wild ride through the poet’s wordplay-world and the questioning of meaning itself.

From the outset, Ormonde’s collection almost has the feel of an academic discussion, albeit an unorthodox one, carried out through a series of small blocks of text. Statement follows on from statement, quickly moving from the media suggested by the title:

“..in a future where film is (a)
memory We can still say
We do not need to put this
into words because before
now We had film”

..to an altogether more abstract discussion of the fundamentals of ‘saying’ – moving from different representations of reality to the realities of representation:

“            …     Tongue will
make (a) new memory and
or technology will make (a)
New memory.”

Here, we witness Ormonde’s lightning-quick shifts from one idea to the next. He plays with the ideas of saying, recording, archiving and retrieval throughout the collection, putting them through endless permutations which surprise at every twist and turn.

This constant toying with what are, after all, fairly weighty concepts is, in places, perfectly balanced by a playfulness that is a delight to follow:

“Enterpriseis undertake.
Enterprising undertaking.
Enterprisers undertakers.
Enterprisen undertaken.
Enterprose undertook.
Exitprose overtook.
Exitprisen is overtaken.”

Here, Ormonde deliberately and mischieviously follows the patterns of morphological inflection within the two words, transferring these patterns from one word to another to take the words themselves to new frontiers of meaning. Meaning is pushed to its limit; there is no logical answer as to what comes next.

One particularly joyful moment was the discovery of the tiny footnote beneath the 43rd poem-block: “Here the text is infected.” This is the moment that the text begins to consciously comment on itself; on the process of production, archiving and retrieval of information through and beyond the word. The sequence deteriorates into the fugue it depicts, and encounters Psychiatry as a concept rather than a cure. There is a sense of dialogue, deep within the mind, between the shiftiness of meaning and the singularity of this concept:

“Psychiatry. a forgot.
Psychiatry. a forge.
Psychiatry. a fugue.
Psychiatry.”

Before the text is said to have ‘recovered’ from its virus (this fact again communicated by a footnote), the word ‘fugue’ itself is stripped down to pure sound, transcribed phonetically: “(fju:g). Restricted to print on paper, Ormonde inventively communicates the breakdown of a word, a concept, and its rebuilding from pure sound upwards.

If I was to pick something to criticise with regard to this collection, it would be that its many lines of enquiry into mutations and permutations make it difficult to detect an overall coherence behind the sequence (if it is to be read as a sequence, as its numbered text-blocks suggest). There is a sense that sometimes the wordplay is undertaken for its own sake rather than contributing to a structured whole:

“ ‘This is’ ‘nice’. ‘This is’ nice.
‘This’ ‘is nice’. ‘This’ ‘is’
‘nice’…”

Whilst this wordplay is interesting to read, the sheer volume of these diversions into the particulars of ‘saying’ make for hard going reading – especially where, as above, the focus is an utterance which is subjective in itself. I’m not suggesting that all poetry should be instantaneously digestible – after all, there is a joy in difficult texts; they make us think and question. But sharper editing of the collection as a whole could have made for a sequence that facilitates this thinking and questioning by giving the stronger pieces room to breathe, in isolation from their many possible variations.

Another question I had when reading this volume was the reasoning behind the form of the poems on the page. Whilst the justified blocks are visually stark and offer an interesting decontextualisation reminiscent of the wall of an art gallery, in places it’s difficult to see why the potential for experiment with spacing has not been exploited. That said, this sense of restriction is concurrent with the trammelling of meaning into the forms it must take on during the process of communication – through voice, film, or through words themselves.

Having googled Ryan Ormonde, it appears that he is also involved in performance art and work across different media, and this is something that is certainly hinted at throughout this collection. Thinking again of that gallery wall, I’m wondering whether this pamphlet has reached its final form, or whether there’s room for it – or selected, edited pieces – to move still further into the media it questions, taking on shapes and spaces that may be better suited to the fascinating and ever-changing nature of the discussion at hand.