Thursday, 27 January 2011

George Ttoouli - Suspended Sentence

Reading [x]’s poetry reminds me why I love language and poetry because nearly every poem in the collection reminds me of a better one, already published and celebrated and far more worthy of revisiting than these poems. This isn't helped by the string of pointers peppering the collection, to poets and poems – from a mostly traditional white male school syllabus canon – that are far more exciting than the metronomic rat's rhymes [x] has produced.

I'll start by quoting from the later pages, after the point where the poems read as if their purpose is to bulk up the length of the book:

[quotation deleted]

Here we have a poem called, [poem1] in which [x] insists on capturing the urge to write a poem about a [bird], despite full awareness of how well [poet1] and [poet2] have written about the bird. The justification, of being moved, is so awkwardly tacked-on as to be sidelined by the much more convincing, “Might as well.” There's no sense of the bird itself; there's no originality, even in the attempt to write about a poet's struggle to write with originality. Everything about the poem is a cliché. Does [x] deserve a gold star for getting the title right?

That 'might as well write a poem' sentiment marks the whole of the book resoundingly, from the less obvious poems about roadside accidents, Christmas festivities, trite nature observations and Wendy-Cope-relationship-poems, to the more blatant [poem2]. The 'Notes' at the back of the book tell me this last one is [dedicated to a group of people who encourage poets to write in response to occasional, trite observational situations]. Does [x] deserve a medal for pursuing a socially clichéd practice concerning the subject matter of poetry?

This kind of poetry-club writing has its place. These clubs are little communities of love and support and, at the best of times, constructive criticism. I would be far more forgiving of [x]’s work if I was in this poetry club, knew [x] personally, and had been given home-printed, hand-sewn and illustrated pages with these poems on. What is the outsider reader supposed to make of all this, though? I don't know [x] or [their] personality, I have only the words on the page, in all their flimsy inadequacy.

And if there is an actual poem to be found among the trite observations in the collection, maybe [x] needs to look a little deeper into the subject. Instead of climbing inside their subjects, these poems flitter around the thing itself with banal personal observations, sometimes laden with old-school Toryisms about nosey neighbours – more specifically, people gawking at [traffic accidents].

One poem, [poem3], launches an attack on the public display of mourning a community shows for [someone killed in a traffic accident]. Here the close observations of a [deleted image] – [quotation deleted] – seem on the point of transcending mere description up to a commentary on human violence and its impact on community. Instead the [image] just rots away, stinks a bit, coming to represent the malaise the speaker feels for their fellow human beings more than any emotional truth about the situation. We're told at the end the [people in the poem] who blamed the [cause of the death] were [quotation deleted]. An adult like the poet, perhaps, who thinks they do know better? The final arrogance sweeps away any complexity or sadness the scene might have evoked.

I'm possibly not the best reader for this work. I mistrust anything that elevates poets to a greater level of moral awareness than the rest of society even on a good day – I've myself as evidence and you've this bad-tempered review as proof. But poets should at least be better at using language to express those things many people are capable of experiencing, to provide greater understanding of the world and our identities. Here, language does not bend to experience, but the opposite. The most blatant offender, [poem4], fails utterly to capture the kind of syntax and distorted view of reality someone might feel in a state of altered consciousness. [x] opts, instead, for trite nursery rhyme structures to capture the mindset of the speaker. Does that mean [x] took a substance that returned [them] to [their] childhood? I'm struggling to make a connections still, insofar as I struggle to remember anything in this book beyond a generic smear of unoriginality, revulsion and resentment for my time being wasted.

There's plenty more to demand apologies for throughout, but it's beginning to feel a bit like kicking a corpse for want of a football. I've nothing against doggerel, as long as it's entertaining—as Rachel Blau DuPlessis put it in 'Draft 75: Doggerel': “I say that doggerel really gets it right, at last. /Up doggerel, wreck refinement, go for crass.” Joyous, by comparison. Suffice it to say when [x] gets to grips with the idea of a poem's form being related to its content, then perhaps [they’ll] write something tolerable to readers outside of [their] immediate circle; after that [x] might begin to think about the notion of form being content.