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John Bloomberg-Rissman

“Many Red Fish” by Steve Spence, pub. Knives, Forks and Spoons Press. 45pp. £7.00

“Many Red Fish” is a collection of 39 one-page poems, each consisting of 24 lines divided into 8 tercets. At least, it is presented as 39 one-page poems, though I suspect that it could also be considered one book length poem with 39 “cantos”. For me, it reads just as well either way. Though for the sake of this review, I will consider it a book of 39 poems.

I believe that the poems are created via collage, though I could be wrong about that. I think collage because the poems remind me in a way of Tony Lopez’s “Only More So”, Giles Goodland’s “Capital”, and some of nick-e mellville’s work, as well as that of others, and I know these works to be collaged, taking statements and questions from a variety of sources and combining them in a way that approaches or exceeds literal sense, yet adds up to something lovely nonetheless. For me the sense is constructed by a combination of a feeling that the statements, etc, do belong next to each other, for a number of reasons I can’t quite put my finger on. I’m sure the rhythm and music, “the song of the syllables”, is intrinsic to that feeling. In any case, I find the poems both affective and effective.

Of course, it’s possible that these poems aren’t in the least collaged, that it’s just me. It doesn’t really matter, I can read them with equal pleasure either way. If they are not collaged there are some ways they make me think of John Ashbery, his sudden twists and turns.

Let me give you a sample, which might make it clear why I think collage and why it also seems maybe, maybe not. These are the opening lines of “Steering clear of danger”, which can be found about 2/3 of the way through the book:

          “It was almost a nod to the punk era,” she said.
          In other words you are going to be on tenterhooks
          with her not knowing and you just waiting to go.

          We were watched very closely and very secretly
          for a very long time. Where there was water before
          now there is a killer whale. Nothing is attributable.

          There’s an incessant banging of drums. Some may linger
          and some will quickly disappear. Now for the asparagus.
          It may just be that we’re not getting out message across.

I mentioned Ashbery. Collaged or not, the sudden appearance of “Now for the asparagus” makes me laugh the way he makes me laugh.

I feel the need to add here that I don’t mean in the least to suggest that the fact that I think of other poets as I read this book is to suggest that they are derivative. That would be akin to suggesting that all the jazz musicians playing bebop in the forties and fifties were just copying each other, which wasn’t the case. It was just the way they heard the world during and after the war. it’s no coincidence that bluegrass and bebop were born at the same time. The war sped the world up, and the music went with it. Spence is writing during a period in which the world not only sped up once again, information/text/etc also comes at one very disjunctively. For example, I am writing this with a football game on in the background. I can hear every word said, and under other circumstances it would make sense to weave some of what I am hearing into what I am writing, if I wanted to accurately portray my world.

Which is what I think Spence is doing, trying to accurately portray his world. Emphasis on his. This is why the statements, collaged or not, are organized the way they are. I enjoyed my visit very much.

Copyright © John Bloomberg-Rissman, 2019