Tuesday, 4 October 2011

One Poem - Ben Nardolilli

No New Wave

“Cycling across a wilderness of snow”
-    J. Grunthaner

In search of an active walking life,
He goes alight much too often,
Breath? He takes it with the sunrise,
Among the still, orchidaceous
Chrome of cars waiting for commuters.

Not everything demands an interview,
Though the voices of curious objects
Conduct their wet questions to him
With the greatest ease and fashion,
Birds want to know the most about him.

All he can offer is a metallic reference,
And try to be a hero to the apartments
By removing litter and clippings
From the sidewalks without compensation,
Voices of floating girls are his pay.

Ben Nardolilli is a twenty five year old writer currently living in Arlington, Virginia. A chapbook, Common Symptoms of an Enduring Chill Explained, has been published by Folded Word Press. He maintains a blog at mirrorsponge.blogspot.com and is looking to publish his first novel.

Friday, 2 September 2011

One Review - Iain Morrison

What’s it called?

Like by Colin Herd - The Knives Forks and Spoons Press, 2011

I’ve thought that the word ‘like’, which is the title of Colin Herd’s chapbook with The Knives Forks and Spoons Press, is and has been a problematic one for a poet of any era. Historically likely to appear more frequently than most other words in an artform much taken with likening, have poets not worried about the overuse of it’s ugly diphthong, it’s harsh plosive, the scarcity of useable alternatives? They surely have, and for a contemporary poet, in this postmodern game where the act of making metaphor has had its bluff called, the appearance of the word ‘like’ in a poem can point to an unfashionable, an unsophisticated, an un-metonymic mind.

All the more provocative then of this shape-shifting poet, to lead us into his poems on such a wrong-foot.

So, the three words on his chapbook’s cover read ‘Like Colin Herd’, but it is a question for the reader just how much ‘like’ Colin Herd this group of eleven poems is. To put it another way, how much would the poet align his voice with the aggregate of those presented in the poems? ‘Those’, for there is no clear overarching voice here. Through the poems, if we try to, we chase a wavering hologram of self-portrait, though probably not of Colin Herd’s self, any more than the perfume-hawking Eva Longoria of the poem ‘Eva Longoria’ is likely to be coterminous, or even concerned to appear so, with the woman who suffers from scent-related allergies – if we can trust the poem on the matter, that is.

In these poems, the concerns of a poet, or at least the causes of this poetry that must exist for real within the poems’ hall of mirrors, are glimpsed as his withdrawals, his tuckings away in our peripheral vision. I thought of Christopher Isherwood’s attestation, ‘I am a camera’ and the lie given to this by the glaring omission of the juicy bits in his Berlin novels. In fact, that seems more right than what I started out saying in the last paragraph – if a self-portrait is present, it is only there as much as in the television programme Through the Keyhole where the audience is invited to guess ‘What sort of a person would live in a house like this?’. This poetry seems more and more to me to set about collecting voices in a miscellany that throws up an impossibility of cohesion or of straight-forwardness.

Incidentally the poem ‘Denise Levertov’ felt like it allowed this reader closer to the poet than some of the others. It reminded me of the 1958 quarrel between poets Helen Adam and Denise Levertov in one camp and Jack Spicer in the other. Following a perceived insult by Spicer to the two women at a party held to celebrate their writing, the camps became defined along woman poet v. male poet lines, or perhaps woman v. man, or perhaps, as Levertov seemed to indicate in a letter to Lewis Ellingham (as quoted in his and Kevin Killian’s Spicer biography Poet Be Like God) in which she says ‘I find homosexual males & lesbians uncongenial in groups’, straight v. gay. Spicer’s ‘insult’ took the shape of a poem he read out at the occasion which included the phrase ‘The female genital organ is hideous’ and then later ‘Men ought to love men/ (And do)/ As the man said/ It’s/ Rosemary for remembrance.’. Afterwards Helen Adam had a dream in which she delivered letters (another image from Spicer’s rather good poem), apologising as she did so for being a woman. The presence here of dreaming and hating and of Denise Levertov made me wonder if somewhere in Colin Herd’s poem, there is an act of reparation, or perhaps of revenge?

denise levertov
dreamed the thong of her sandal

that’s a bad dream

i dreamed i was able
to mend
her dream-sandal, and did
so, very carefully.

she hated me for it, i think,
in the dream.

To return to the chapbook’s title, omission, redundancy and unsureness are all also present in that word ‘like’ when it is used, like it probably is conversationally at least half the time in Scotland, as merely a space-filler, as a cover-up for not knowing what to say. Of a certain attractive ignorance.

Why are these poems made of such stuff? Which motives is Colin Herd not fessing up to? There are clues, like, because his poems go further than Isherwood’s novels in allowing their voices the act of liking. ‘Franz Kline’ begins ‘i really like the famous/black and white paintings/of franz kline.’, while ‘Read My Lips’ begins, ‘i’m such a fan’. We begin to sense what the poet is getting at in this opener about a ‘favourite wax-sculptor’ from the team at Madame Tussauds. The speaker of the poem has, with a connoisseur’s relish, detected one particular hand in work designed only to be appreciated for its seamless replication of reality. And yet, the voice’s appreciation is only fuelled further by the inside knowledge he has gained. He speaks like a master forger admiring his hero, like the wannabe of Morrissey’s song ‘The Last of the Famous International Playboys’ who is admiring not his tabloid monster mentor but the exquisite art in his self-construction. There is something murderous about each.

In ‘Cumbernauld’ this exploration of the ‘artificially’ constructed is extended into 1950’s town-planning. Colin Herd spent some time growing up in the Scottish new town this poem centres on, or rather tracks, as it is variously manifested in a series of video clips. The last phrase in the poem, which I took at first to be throwaway if not fully sarcastic, began to seem more generous and somewhere between confident and optimistic when I considered it from the perspective of someone who knew their home town to have come fresh from an architect’s drawing board. Here, and in the rest of these poems, there might be an endorsement of DIY culture, or more simply, acts of making (or of making up in at least two senses); their endless possibilities. The Bryce Family of ‘Cumbernauld’ even provide a sort of creation myth for the town and for the Modern age.

The chorus of Like’s voices fetishises an occlusion of the self. It leads us towards a point where the self might forget that it was ever something wild and untameable, or maybe it never was – maybe the poet doesn’t buy in to that notion. Think celebrity culture: there is a neutering, an abnegation of responsibility in these voices with every visceral experience frozen behind a glossy marketing product which allows us to lean in to the dead lips of George Bush Senior or to coolly view the end of a teacher’s career wrought by vindictive pupils. We are in the viewing chamber and are entreated to behave as such.

And the view from this chamber looks like an intriguing combination of Heat magazine and Who’s Who. Dougie Poynter rubs shoulders with Denise Levertov, so perhaps it’s actually more fantasy dinner party territory. There’s little separation between discreet worlds.

The lack of discretion relates to another likely source for the chapbook’s title: facebook with it’s ubiquitous ‘like’ button. In the World Wide Web evoked by this reading, incongruent content is flattened and vertiginously stacked. The communal voice of Wikipedia is imitated to teasingly bamboozling effect in ‘Turboprop’, and an enthusiastic nutter invites us to his or her page in ‘How to growl: Starter Techniques’, then we are treated to a series of video clips, perhaps brought up by the search-term ‘Cumbernauld’.

As  I wrote that last paragraph, a nagging possibility came into my head. I have just gone online to see if all this stuff is really there. It is! I just watched the video of the growling man who takes himself SO seriously it’s quite too hilarious. Colin Herd is making me look at things - weird things. Now I’m beginning to think that maybe this is partly what he’s aiming at: to force awareness of groups we might feel unrelated to or even alienated from and moreover, to force us to see them dispassionately. The level voices make it pretty hard for the reader to be judgemental. Is this taking us back into ‘I am a camera’ territory? In fact even the perceived mainstream is having its tightly-fitted lid lifted. This is the queering of everything with boggling political ramifications.

Anyway, I’ve also just checked the Wikipedia entry for ‘turboprop’ and yes, I found the text of Herd’s poem pretty much verbatim. It’s hard to tell whether it’s only not completely verbatim because of Wikipedia’s shifting sands, but I’m choosing to enjoy the thought that here we have a teasing intro from the poet himself with ‘nozzle, obviously.’.

The experience of sifting boredly through a tedious morass of online bumf to find what you’re halfway looking for is an act of reading/researching we have had to adapt to en masse only in the last generation. Are Colin Herd’s acts of transcription or near-transcription a clue to one of his themes – the relation of the individual to internet culture: the acceptance of new ways of seeing, interpreting and relating that the internet has demanded of us?

Such a take on the poems could be followed into its moral implications. The challenge of our age might prove to be the making of moral decisions when nothing is swept under the carpet out of sight anymore. Everything is there, hanging around in cyberspace like the YouTube suicide video of a high-school teen-killer, justifying itself incompatibly with everything in opposition to it.

The contest between an individual consciousness, like Colin Herd’s, and the illusory communal ones is lost here, every time at the first hurdle, without a fight. This is poetry as pratfall. But think how enduring those vaudeville acts of seeming levity have proved as a guide to the prevailing social pressures of the silent film era. The everyman characters of Laurel and Hardy and Chaplin’s loveable tramp come to mind.

And with the silent film era, we arrive at another of Herd’s celebrity cameos. In ‘I am’, the protagonist, in an act of Promethean theft, attempts to take an eyeball from the man of a thousand faces, Lon Chaney. This is a poet who is not afraid to become disfigured to get everybody’s points across.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Two Poems - Felino A. Soriano

Recollections 34

|skipping rocks|

hand as sling

motional rubberized benefit of stretch:

decline-link or

                                    plane of hope the lever functions reverse;

forrad, foray of play

filled speed of spilling vase
                                                finger-thumb union
birth of the silken gem, skin

of spatial specks                      lit by rhythm release

: skid, scope of patterned rise descend

                        rise again

decomposing existence within liquid tomb of coalesced


Recollections 36

|Saturday, a|

Resolution of sewing shadow, patterned gaffe
fixated hem

                                    distinguishing whole from the

                                    meander of shortened prophecies

                                    stable, un
—stable paradox romanticizing self as enough beyond 24 obsessions

staving what starves among portions’ entranced focal

                                                            staged finality, end of week’s posit of



Felino A. Soriano (b. 1974) is a case manager and advocate for adults with developmental and physical disabilities. In 2010, he was chosen for the Gertrude Stein "rose" prize for creativity in poetry from Wilderness House Literary Review.  Philosophical studies collocated with his connection to various idioms of jazz explains motivation for poetic occurrences.  For information, including his 45 print and electronic collections of poetry, over 2,800 published poems, interviews, and editorships, please visit his website: www.felinoasoriano.info.

Monday, 15 August 2011

One Poem - Connor Stratman

Facsimile I
First it was history
then seismic
fingers in the ground
Now it’s electric books
and knitted clubs
How to posit a moment
and hold it still
or spit it like
our geography now determined
by spots of inky breath
Now what:
I don’t know
(nor act as knower)
The breath of godly love
            is speck of black
wrecked world of women
my other
            your disappearance
contained in cups
of cheapened water
            in the corresponding
                        holes of the sky
revise your meaning, please
film-firm surface
and insecured hands
I forget
to wonder
malicious steadiness

it’s your litany
that gets repeated
then thrown out
and wiped by the judge
The wince of begging:
acknowledged ownership
of the small scrap pile
they get something
like us luck struck
drawers of hall            ways

in the good minutes
after sunrise
wilted names lock
            on the walls
and call everything
something else
Connor Stratman is a writer currently living in Chicago. His work has appeared in journals such as The Toronto Quarterly, The Journal of Experimental Fiction, ditch, Leaf Garden, Pinstripe Fedora, Otoliths, Counterexample Poetics, Scythe, and Little Episodes, among others. He edits the online poetry journal The Balloon. He is the author of a chapbook, invisible entrances (erbacce-press, 2010) and a full-length book of poems, An Early Scratch (erbacce, 2011).

Monday, 8 August 2011

Bobby Parker's 'Ghost Town Music' reviewed


It is impossible not to connect Bobby Parker’s debut with the poetry of Charles Bukowski. The apprehension about doing so stems from the negative connotations inevitably brought forth by such a comparison – dreggy bedsit scribble, easy cheap indulgence, soggy English American affectation. It is both a shame and a testament to the singular Bukowski that his influence has become so ubiquitous; likewise, it is a testament to Parker that his incorporation of Bukowski poetics is for the most part transgressive and not derivative, even incidental at times. His project has the strange quality of both extreme affect and lack of artifice – a staged lack of poeticity that somehow comes across as authenticity.

Ghost Town Music is more notebook than collection, featuring a comic strip, photography, reproduced handwritten scraps and typewritten pages. Again, these come across as entirely natural, expected, a kind of vital ambience for the poems themselves. And it is the poems themselves that are most worthy of discussion. Therein, however, lies the problem. Quoting from any of the individual poems as representative exemplars of Parker’s shtick would inadvertently undermine the way GTM functions as a whole. There is an absence of metaphorical language throughout – one poem even featuring a deleted section: “(THE EDITOR THOUGHT THAT THIS LINE WAS TOO / LYRICAL TO BE INCLUDED IN THE COLLECTION)” – and a plethora of unabashedly crude rememberings of high, horny and broke adolescence. Situated together in a nonlinear progression of scrawled reminiscence, which is charmingly human and naked, the pieces blur together into a never-pitifully-melancholy shard of growing up, and while on their own there is nothing particularly exciting or interesting about the language the poems utilise, as a speedily read mass they insinuate their – how to put this? – genuineness into the reader.

For example:

In the time between
getting the sack
from one job in a factory
and walking into town
to the recruitment agency
for another job in a factory
I marvelled at
the way the sun
made people on the street
seem happy to be alive.

That is one poem (most are untitled and the book is unpaginated) in full. And in a sense, it’s not very good. If I were to read it on its own I would dismiss it as Bukowski-aping affect. It is hackneyed, and the marvelling at the people in sun is crudely functional. And yet as part of a collection read chronologically it, along with the other parts, coalesces into a believable authentic speaking self documenting an existence that is very much undocumented – as far as I can see – in the young contemporary poetry scene: a poetry about a particular kind of existence and formative surroundings free from mainstream stylisation, not locked into Movement-dogged bogstandard English plainspokenness. It is the fact that these poems read like they could not have been written any other way that gives them their aura of authenticity, of genuineness, despite the obvious affectation.

The fragments of introspection are what work best for me, when Parker is less concerned with portraying a lifestyle than expressing personal feeling. ‘Little Bean’ is, as Luke Kennard has noted, quite simply heartbreaking and I wouldn’t want to taint it by speaking of it further. But also affecting are the fragments like this one, appearing sporadically, little notes to self made public:

If I want sun
I close my eyes under a lightbulb
If I want sea
I close my eyes and listen
To the toilet flush...

Parker’s poetry in this collection, wilfully messy and semi-edited as it may or may not be, is a becoming. There is a humanity that presses against the words and helps give them their force, and as the poems ransack childhood and early adulthood for purpose, so their quality as poetry seems to be writing towards itself. It is a journey towards something enacted in the process of the poems together and the implication of what the poet is working towards as poet, and I think it will be a journey worth joining. 

Saturday, 23 July 2011

A selection of poetry by Andrew McMillan

BBC Radio 4 Afternoon Play Idea #3: a glockenspiel indicates a train

A psychiatrist’s office

Patient:                problem?            I want to tell stories        but I never know
     how to round things up you know            how to give someone
                             a perfectly circular tale they can spin around their hips
                             for an afternoon              take the other day for example:
                             in a carriage between London and Manchester a man
                             got into a fight with the conductor           the conductor had a face
                             like a dilapidated barn and he was trying to make the man pay
                             full fare because he hadn’t bought his ticket on the station
                             the man said he hadn’t had chance        he’d been rushing          his wife
                             was in hospital ‘cos she’d slipped down the stairs
                             he had to get back to see her and didn’t he understand              
                             and couldn’t he let him off just once?  the conductor said he was
                             just following orders and the man replied that that’s what they’d said
                             at Nuremburg and the conductor snatched his money and stormed off
                             and the man with the wife with a sprained ankle and a broken arm
                             was left contemplating the thin orange slice of meat that was his ticket               
     And isn’t that a perfect place to end?       I suppose it would be  
     but why was there a button missing from the man’s coat? 
     and where did the exhausted metaphor of the train
                             sleep that night?  and what does the conductor smell like 
                             first thing in the morning? 


backslash of corrugated roof      single cheek
of light across the broad chest of city
the potholed avenue the moon has been reduced to


hills        dawn crowning to the east
planes beat their wings
against the moon’s dull bulb


the bells of night’s train ring out
the sea is a half-learnt song         the sea is unsingable
the moon’s mute conduction

BBC Radio Four Afternoon Play Idea #29               rent boy in a small town dreams of the big city

truth      I want out           to fade
like an unfashionable pronunciation

it started with the recurring dream
of a car journey                                there was opera
there was a possibility of rain

and other times I was an over thumbed
button                  dropping              rolling through
this oneplatformsinglestraightline of a town

until I’d wake to find myself in someone else’s
morning                 window                city  
where the sky is scraped away to pure light
and you can't hear yourself scream for the breathing


Andrew McMillan was born in 1988. These poems are taken from his second pamphlet, the moon is a supporting player, due to be published by Red Squirrel Press in October 2011. A first pamphlet, every salt advance, was published in 2009 and is still available from Red Squirrel. Andrew has been Poet-in-Residence for Off the Page and the Regional Youth Theatre Festival; writer-in-residence for the Watershed Landscape Project and Apprentice Poet-in-Residence for the Ilkley Literature Festival. In 2010 he was commissioned by IMove, the cultural olympiad body for Yorkshire, to produce a new sequence of work. He is featured in the upcoming Salt Book of Younger Poets.

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