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a book with no name by Ken Edwards (Shearsman Books)

a book with no name by Ken Edwards (Shearsman Books)

I have been anticipating this book ever since reading some of the texts on Intercapillary Space and in PN Review 230. It does not disappoint. The book comes with the back cover proviso that ‘It is not a book of poems. / It is not a long poem. / It is not a novel. / Nor a volume of short stories. / It is not a work of philosophy. / It is not an object – like a stone. / Yet it drops into the well of nothingness /and is never heard of again.’ The book ‘fuses the optimism of Beckett and the hyperrealism of Stein’.

The texts clearly make a sound, as indicated in the note, through a series of speech acts presented as prose poems, defined as continuous prose without line breaks. They are distinct from say the ‘non-generic’ prose of Richard Makin in his trilogy of novels, which read like knotted prose poetry without conventional novelistic devices, and the internal conversations of R.D. Laing’s prose poems, Knots (1970), on the other. In contrast, the text titles guide the reader into small areas of focus where the movements of attention are incrementally tiny, and call back upon themselves, as small acts, through the slow nature of the development. These small movements accumulate incrementally, as in ‘The facts’:

I have the facts. I have those. I have those facts. I have all those facts. I have all the facts. I have those I have. I have examined those. I have examined those facts I have. All those facts I have examined.

The small statements, each with their own distinct place within the developmental structure, become acts of possession and assertion along the narrative arc. Focus is thus upon the nature of each small statement as they occur. The poet, Lee Harwood, frequently drew attention to small movements within landscapes, climate, moods, and in so doing, also drew attention to the acts of being mindful. This attentiveness to the workings of the mind also occurred in Laing’s dialogues. Here Edwards is working with monologues and there is much less interest in any external world of relationships.

The impact is similar to some serial music, cumulative and entrancing. The reader is drawn into the artifice and drama of speech acts. There is sometimes a sense of inevitability to the conclusion, a sort of rounded closure, as if the text were on a loop. Other endings are much less predictable.

‘Live at Birdland’ subverts any sense of predictability that a list poem may engender by taking a finite set of verbs connected with the activities of birds. The title puns on the New York jazz club of that name and in particular, the John Coltrane album, ‘Live at Birdland’. Here the text progressions are gradual, slightly altered and repeated through the duration and eventually extended as in Coltrane’s music. So that after the verbs have been laid out the progression comes in the form of adverbs and repletion of verbs. Thus the birds that previously call, perch, jump, feed, kill, mate and so on, later do so erratically, willfully, lazily, strongly, madly, lazily and so on. The verb repetitions are innate to the activities of birds and this produces a trance like effect as if one had been intensely watching the activities of birds or indeed closely listening to some Coltrane. The singular image clusters serve to mark the poetic element of the prose narrative on the journey from a definitive opening to its seeming negation through the use of ‘Never’ in the final six lines. The overall impact of the piece is utterly beguiling and one is left enthralled.

a book with no name has a beguiling and absorbing quality. A poem, such as, ‘Dialectics’ based upon permutations from ten words produces a distinct music and elaborates a thought sequence around the propositional pronoun ‘this is’ and its negation with ‘not’. The gradual accumulation of the various propositions and their negatives produces a range of thoughts connected to the various definitions and possible use of ‘dialectics’. The concluding line ‘This is not the way it was supposed to happen’ employing all ten words for the first time together leaves the reader suitably engaged with the text and the subsequent development of the sequence.

I thoroughly recommend a book with no name.

David Caddy 5th September 2016

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One response »

  1. Reblogged this on IfsandButts.

    Reply

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