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Richard Catchpole

Toward Passion According, Jazmine Linklater
Factitious Airs, Peter Manson
(both from Zarf editions, Leeds, 20pp, £3.00

These two pamphlets from the poetically experimental (for want of a better couple of words) Zarf Editions serve to remind one that, even when reading poetry that leaves one absolutely cold, still the poem is a statement of individual creativity that is not to be sniffed at. Even when one feels that the poems are written with one eye (or perhaps both) on other poets and arts practitioners – what one might call a limited audience – it might still be possible to find something that can be enjoyed, even as an outsider and one not privy to the codes and other goings on inherent in the text.

Jazmine Linklater’s Toward Passion According comes our way from the (is it okay to say?) feminist strand of the art-radical-put-the-world-to-rights neck of the woods, which one can tell from the first page, where instead of the word “man” or “woman” we have “(wo)man”. It’s like the 1960s all over again, poetically, linguistically, and probably some other kind of “ly” that escapes me at the moment. The second line of this first poem – “as real / fake as anything else” is one of a number of “borrowed” lines throughout the collection, as the last page of the pamphlet informs us in a lengthy note on sources. Borrowing of this kind is very prevalent these days. I wonder, do you have to get permission before you can borrow these things? I shall have to ask someone and find out.

There are some interesting lines in this first poem, such as “Lips are mouth, but silence is endless” although one should not be taking them too literally. The overall sense here is of a re-taking of something lost after a different beginning:

     In the beginning
     there was a whole
     of two. In the beginning
     there was a Yes
     before the void, before
     holes & half silence.
     Yes striding wholly
     continuum plains before
     he, taking off, pushed
     her under          away

There are quite obvious allusions to the Book of Genesis here, but that “continuum plains” is jarring, to say the least. I am aware that to mention someone having or not having “an ear” is potentially and perhaps unarguably subjective, but “continuum plains”….? The poem culminates positively, I think, after “secret in margins / harems whole”  in

                           …  & we drink
     yes       we drink Yes.

So, the point is made, and it’s a point that out in the real world, wherever that is, will always need to be made. Experimental poems are thought by some, apparently, to be one way of making these kinds of points. Their effectiveness, given that the people reading them will almost certainly agree with the point at the outset, remains something that is rarely questioned. Anyway, moving on:

I cannot spend too long on this, because it is only a short pamphlet and I am not getting any younger, and so I have to skip mention of a longish multi-voiced poem to do with “Heroines Female heroes” that probably deserves some attention. I should mention, however, four of the poems here that are to do with dance, dance being a thing about which I know less than nothing.

One might assume that dance poems might literally “dance” across the page, and “Bacchic Dance” does, in a way. Words are scattered, or rather placed, across two pages, leaving lots of white space. I suspect the “tab” key came in very useful during the poem’s composition. Lots of the words suggest movement, including “dislocate” and “& you in all your music & dexterity”, but I have my doubts that the joys of dance are really conveyed here. I do not know if that was the intention. At one point on the second page there is a parenthesis ) over on the right margin, and a few lines later a ( appears on the left margin. I do not know why, and the things I do not know are piling up. The other three dance poems are, somewhat surprisingly, pinned down by the tyranny of the left margin. I quite like the final lines of “Lyrical Dance” –

     I want you condensed –
     tin canned & cute
     on the balls of your feet, shoeless
     arabesque, between cat& dog & flowerpot

but probably for incorrect reasons.

When I came to Peter Manson’s Factitious Airs I will admit to having to nip to the dictionary to remind myself of the precise meaning of “factitious”. Then I noticed in the bit where says where some of the poems have previously appeared it mentions, among other places, Facebook. Facebook doesn’t count, does it? And when you’re thanking the editors, who are you thanking at Facebook? Mark Zuckerberg, their poetry editor?

This has nothing to do with the poetry, of course, but people throw this stuff out and someone has to catch it.

Earlier I mentioned poems written for other poets, and it was this collection that prompted the comment. I did not take much prompting. A poem dedicated to Peter and Beryl Riley and a poem entitled “Geraldine Monk” (nonsense word play: “A moondial gnomon lingered in mid-gloaming”) were enough. I did rather feel as if I was at the wrong writer’s group. But one must remind oneself that poems are a statement of individual creativity and should not be sniffed at, even when they are not to one’s personal taste. Look for the good in things, as my old grandmother used to say when she was sober.

“Irie”, as in nice or good or pleasing, is apparently dedicated to a couple soon to be married. I believe the technical term is epithalamium. The poem uses only the letters of their names, which is an Oulipian procedure, I think. So, the poet’s sense of word play is on show, most notably in the line “and shed hash ashes on sober azure sashes” , but that’s Oulipo for you. A similar delight in words is in the poem dedicated to the Rileys. “72 Semperivium cultivars named by Nicholas Moore” is, one assumes, a found poem, a found poem that might send you (as it did me) to the dictionary to look up “cultivar”, and to Google to find out who Nicholas Moore is or was. One might also Google the individual cultivars (from Aberdour to Zenocrate) although I am not sure that is the kind of thing poems are there to make you do. I am sure these words sound marvellous read aloud, and I may do that to myself later when I have had a few drinks. 

Manson’s poetry is, though, more than mere wordplay, and he has another side. I almost said a more emotional and lyrical side but I’m not sure that would be right. “Time comes for you”, for example, explores a pretty big subject:

     If there is an afterlife, it is lived
     in the face of discontinuous instances of screaming
     in many voices, all of them loved
     and does not go on forever.

but I’m not sure if “lyrical” is the right word, because there is not a great deal of elegance in the writing. Similarly, “Amen Dunes”, which seems to have to do with some kind of sense of the self (I am trying, I really am) contains stanzas such as

     It is a Möbius loop that serves
     two tracks sequentially, one in reverse
     or alternates left and right in the stereo field
     and does not know for what it is a metaphor.

and I can’t work out if the grammar is intentionally or unintentionally atrocious. It is certainly not lyrical.

My final point would be that as poems like this tend to play second fiddle to the Oulipian playmaking it all makes for a strangely unbalanced little collection. One looks for some cohesion even in a pamphlet, rather than just a selection of poems the poet happens to have handy. And I did try to look for the good things. Honestly I did.






Copyright © Richard Catchpole, 2018