Sunday, November 13, 2011

London Poems and Pistol Tree Poems

Last week I acquired "City State - New London Poetry" from Penned in the Margins, and last night I sat down and opened the book at random. This is what I read:

"when Pan the only dead god lost his long life
savings and took solace in his mortal position
started drinking cursing Wall Street took a breadknife
to Camberwell Green with a bag of those onions
little gaunt white bought a bag of Camberwell Green
and told himself the most Capricious joke
(look I'm dead!) took out his knife from the skein
of his crosshatched loins had an Arcadian smoke
he devised a new cogito fit for his state
it was ravenous drinking not thinking the first antic
verb really he was 'on' Camberwell Green far too alone
to imagine a field not Arcadian lush not a slick
of poured concrete does Pan have to moan
like a goat with his sibiliants spittling the screen
in panic from Wall Street to Camberwell Green?"

This is by one Ben Borek. I loved the verbal energy and musicality of this piece, the use of line-breaks ('his long life/savings') and the way it doesn't pause for breath, so that the scene it describes is half-hidden behind the wordplay. This poem manages to update the classical, not by heavy-handed juxtapositions with the present'-day, but by dropping in key words (Pan, Arcadian, panic, cogito) into a disjointed an fast-moving set of contemporary references. The poem is part of what could be described as a sonnet sequence, and they're all of this quality. I haven't investigated the rest of the anthology, but this is a good start.

I also acquired a copy of "The Pistol Tree Poems" by Peter Hughes and Simon Marsh. I'd seen some of these poems on Great Works, and enjoyed them, but wasn't sure what I'd make of a whole book-full. The poems alternate between the two poets, and each one is a response to the previous poem. Such exercises can end up being rather self-indulgent, but this one is saved by the skill of the two poets, as well as its humour and irreverence. I'm very much enjoying reading the poems at random, though whether I'll get to read all of them I don't know. Surrealism never really took hold in British poetry (with a few exceptions), but there's always been a strong tradition of nonsense poetry, from the rantings of Pistol to the poems of Edward Lear and Lewis Carol to the lyrics of John Lennon and Syd Barret. These poems are in that line:

"& as the Omniscient Mussel mused
On Len's pink tights & bristles
it recalled blobs of molten lead
dropped from a height of one thumb..."

(poem 51)

The above is from Peter Hughes, who has a slightly different tone to Simon Marsh, who tends to be more formal and lyrical:

"I can't pick out a single tune
he's slap looped
strut and pranced
in buccaneer loons
a deep wail syllable drawn
from his heart's clutter..."

(poem 52)

The poems are epistolary (excuse the pun) and drawn from the everyday:

"so tomorrow it's off to King's Lynn
1 to fit tow bar
2 to have Great Aunt Maisie splayed
3 investigate suede wall-art"

The poems manage some acerbic comments on current affairs ("...your internet history available
to entire herds of minor government voyeurs..."), but at the moment I'm enjoying reading it for the fun of it, and I'm sure I'll enjoy dipping into it for a long time:

"as many had foretold
aliens landed on Dartmoor
in teapots formed from many-coloured lights
& early Hillage solos"


Tom said...

Hi Alan,
Glad you responded well to Ben Borek's poem. I wish he'd write/publish more, as I'm a big fan of his.
All best,

Alan Baker said...

I'd never seen his work before Tom, so thank you for introducing me to it.