Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Tuesday 11 May 2010

"Scarecrows" by Jon Stone (HappenStance, 2010)

A 27 page pamphlet with many allusions - poetry for the Google generation. The 1st poem ("Grand Augur") is a one-liner. The 2nd ("Jake Root", commended in the 2009 NPC) has 35 lines. Here's the start of it

Sure as I'm dying, I need it. Bring
them nuggets of zingiber, fire-packed rhizomes
to mash into candy or jam between pillows -
banish hag-rodeo! Bring that curio

which is sonically rich - you come out concussed by consonants. Later we have

or fresh from a boat from the faraway islands
fermented or dashed in a cake or concoction

both lines having the same rhythm as the poem's 3rd line, though I detect no master scheme. There are anglo-saxon echoes and internal rhymes too. Even from these 2 poems one can see why Peter Daniels wrote "The poems are somewhat psycho-geographical, with witchcraft and superstition the most regularly occurring theme" and why Luke Kennard wrote that the poet has "a ken for new sounds and a perfect ear for meter". But I can also see why Daniels went on to say "Stone's wit ranges from daft punning ... to self-conscious understatement ... from slightly overworked conceit ... via some neat rhyme and half-rhyme ... to other kinds of wordplay and music that is often simply lovely to the ear, though once or twice the rhythm loses itself in awkward stresses".

So much for sound. What about plot? Here's the end of "Kay's 21st"

He wipes dead ants from his chin.
I turn back to the scream of window,
the concrete Tesco they built on our garden
and the silverfish wending down the skirting
like goblin mercury

The poem has a narrative, so we know that "He" is Uncle Alan, and that he's probably eaten the ant-infested cake that's been mentioned earlier. Silver's been mentioned too - he asked Kay about "the silver thread in [her] eye, the silver clasp in [her] heart", so silver's been mentioned but all this preparatory narrative is little use to us at the end - the final 4 lines come out of the blue, hovering between collage and narration, mimesis and symbolism, adding new material rather than pulling disparate strands together. Luke Kennard comments that the poems "access parts of your mind you didn't know you had. Surreal but engaged". The poet says that "My own work is characterised, I think, by an affection for the incongruous, mismatched and paradoxical". In "Against Free Speech" he writes "Imagine if every thought that never made it/ to your lips came stumbling from your mouth/right now". Sometimes there are marked-up (italized) interruptions from other registers or languages. Elsewhen there are fused intrusions, deep-seated collage where you can't see the joins. Here's the end of "Malignants"

Oh, yesterday, a child of 12 fathered an imp,
and yet the government are worse than useless

which comprises several shifts of tone. He can be efficient with words in a conventional way too though - I box myself into the kitchen-white Skoda,/ scrumping your Buy milk, eggs, bread list

Several forms are used - abab, Tanka, ababba, sonnet, ababccdeed, abccba - sometimes with fairly loose rhyme, and there's a prose-poem.

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