In a previous short collection, Professions, Mike Ferguson took a series of individual professions – butcher, baker, fireman, policeman etc – as a starting point for a playful exploration of identity, language and a meandering discourse which was always entertaining and often informative. He’s extended that process here with a wider brief where he takes a phrase or word, for example, ‘Not Amused,’ ‘Tarrying’ and ‘In the Palm of a Hand’ and extrapolates in a manner which is equally effective. Each prose poem occupies less than a page and some are much shorter. If there is a more questioning nature to these pieces, and I think there is, then it’s all done with a lightness of touch which makes them such fun to read.
Inside a Cloud
To cool a cloud of its atoms is to swagger in the atmospherics.
An artist who makes indoor clouds has discovered the texture
of transience. Is it a cult of our new technology to store such
faith inside the Cloud? Swelling and thickening and rolling and
sculpting invisibility of vapour. A realistic rendering of clouds
has an abstract. This twee metaphor of bedsheets in the sky.
You can fly a plane directly into and along yet only words shape
within and with. Anisotropic here too – scattering – and future
mash-ups are being mapped as I compose. Thank you George.
It’s a beautifully put-together piece and in that sense is typical of the entire collection. Ferguson’s commentary on his own process (‘future / mash-ups are being mapped….’) is never intrusive and also suggests to me that the further into this way of working you delve the more you are forced to engage with the nature of the endeavour itself. I’ve certainly found this in my own work, though our practices are not entirely the same I suspect, and the trick, if it is such, is to embrace such ‘meta language’ while not being overwhelmed by it. Or to put it as Martin Stannard does on the back-cover blurb – ‘ that relationship between enjoyment and the serious might be what you perhaps most remember, and might take it into your future days.’
There are around 90 poems in total and there are recurring hints or themes which interrelate between titles/subjects but the main thrust of each piece is generated by the title. Literary references return – Beckett and Coleridge occur, often as amusing asides and there is some lovely wordplay amid the puzzlement and occasional abrupt moments. Memories are evoked – ‘American cursive in my mother’s letters will always remind how / close we were in writing across miles and time and belonging.’ – and then disappear while associations of words and themes keep sending the ‘narrative’ off into different spaces and occasionally into outer space. The actual choice of title in each case is intriguing and may be arbitrary or indeed indicate some form of pattern. Here are a few which I’ve picked at random (?) from the Contents page: ‘Now I Lay me down to Sleep,’ ‘Whiskers in the Sink,’ ‘Purple Turbines,’ ‘Electracy,’ and ‘About Writing Poetry.’ Subjects can be everyday trivia, if you like’ or puzzling encounters, all is grist to the mill. You could certainly spend some time, if you wished, putting together a speculative account of the author’s interests and passions or you can just go with the flow and enjoy these pieces for what they are, language games which intrigue and provoke thought and pleasure in just about equal amounts, I’d say. Not that thinking has to be ‘unpleasurable’ of course! Here’s a second poem for you to encounter:
You Cannot Live on Beauty Alone
Because what you hear as the sound of children playing is just the
calls of seabirds. A home resurrected after drought and lowered
waters is still a relic. Romanticism was a power of light until Sara
intruded with her orthodox diss. Beauty in loneliness can be self-
indulgent. As Monroe purred, a career is wonderful, but you can’t
curl up with it on a cold night. I think Curley’s wife too knew
a dress and sunlight was never enough. Sustenance groomed is
still potatoes. Has anyone mentioned the folly of this?
The penultimate line is wonderfully puzzling yet you can just about link it to the previous line if you try. The final line is a wonderful example of juxtaposition, just leaving it all up in the air. The reader is as empowered as the writer. I simply love this kind of material.
Steve Spence 28th November 2021