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Then by Linda Black (Shearsman Books)

Then by Linda Black (Shearsman Books)

I simply love this book and could quote from it endlessly. Split into nine sections it’s playful yet serious and seriously playful at the same time. These are poems which sing and suggest, slip from idea to idea, confuse your thought processes yet delight the eye and the brain with an abundance of energy, skill and sheer brilliance. There is rhyme and assonance in abundance, all the traditional tricks of the trade yet done in such a way as not to overstate the case and even when this is the case to do it with such bravado and gusto that the reader is helplessly in thrall. Here, for example, are the first and final stanzas in the opening poem ‘Time is of the effervescence’:

          Then   it’s   popped.  Likewise   a   pillar  of   well-being – too   much   taboo

          contravenes the notion that all’s well. Many are non-believers confounding

          the desire to know. An expansive watch tells it all.

          On  the  dot. Safety  behind the door. Larger than  the frame it purports

          to fit. Come winter down it goes – contradicted and back to size. A well

          beginning for a venture. 

From an unexpected beginning (has the previous sentence been omitted?) which could signify a ‘grand opening’ we follow through with non-sequiturs which nevertheless take you off at tangents of possibly intriguing thoughts. That or filling in the dots, which each reader can do in his or her own fashion. There’s a charm to the process which is hard to pin down but it’s wonderful writing. Sometimes you get a sense of deja vu from a snippet or phrase which you think you can locate from elsewhere but you’re never quite sure. How much ‘found language’ there is in this process is difficult to ascertain as it all trips along so beautifully even amid the abrupt interjections, and how contradictory is that? Wordplay, as in the title – which you can easily misread at first attempt – 

is central to the method and can be ‘effervescing’ (as here!) or more subtly intertwined within the texts.   

In ‘Lark’ we have the following:

          Folly me dandy                             Follow me rare

          Up from the broad room            Down for repair

          Clopped in the cow pat               Snapped in the snare

          Glandular fever                             Dip snip & dare

          Influence effluence                      Stock still and stare

          Safety-pin paraffin                        Polish & swear

          Pickle & candy                               Cauliflower pear

This is pure nursery rhyme material from the section of mainly shorter poems entitled ‘Each shell or barnacle’ where charm is an essential guide. 

     We have lists and prose poems and visually induced pieces such as ‘A smidgen’ from which we get the following:

                                     scales

                      STICK      in the gullet   a fork

                                    is a powerful tool

                                    I desire

                      a bowl of cake   a broth   hot-pot   gob-stop

                         of scalded chicken       a cut-glass

                      reservoir   DON’T   serve me

                            Octopus  deprived

                      of its mate   Lay   gall-stones

                                    around my plate

I can’t precisely replicate the typographical variation here but you get the gist and these poems are clearly written by somebody with visual training as well, perhaps, as a writer with an interest in concrete poetry. I’m reminded a little here of Edwin Morgan whose versatility stretched to early computer-generated work as well as translations from the Hungarian but his poetry always had a sense of the playful about it which is seriously true of Linda Black’s work also. There appears to be a lot of cooking going on in these poems so I detect the appearance of ‘a foodie’ at work both in terms of the subject matter and in the sense of ‘cooking up’ a readable concoction.

          Riddle

          Head fold   arm swivel   twizzle drizzle

          polarised eyes   meagre   penniless

          concave gaze   a turn  a tail   slight flea-bite

          foot drop   (under the arches  second left)

          stiff back/ed linen   hump lump  impeded gait

          older days   leaden light   adult daze

          paralysis   (atypical depression)

          quarried tiles (misfit)   slab slap overlap  

          assemblage of nuts & bolts   (hard wear)

          crockery  mockery   (Scott not free)

          calories count   stark Clark’s shoes

          spleen   Scalextric   running late

It’s wonderful the way this material all hangs together, whether derived from word association, awareness of the sound aspects of the written word or indeed the artificial nature of process (‘assemblage of nuts & bolts’), there’s a sense of immediacy and a lightness of touch here which is so good to encounter. 

          Each shell or barnacle

          Kingfisher  or   kite,   closely   observed.   A   tarpaulin  to  rest  upon – no

          sting or  carbuncle – leisure  caressing  all surfaces. No ache  (body blithe,

          unruffled).  No  significant  other, trailing  dandelion heads.  Pine needles,

          kelp. Forwards may run forever. The breadth of the breath, the hearth of

          the heart.

          An even temperature. The desire for narrative, the smooth ascent,

          enclosure the sodden clay. Take a runner nailed into place – a (straight)

          forward path; an intermittent placing on the doormat.

          Playtime pops in – something creative. It is time to engage.

So we have ‘the desire for narrative’ allied to what appears to be an often aleatory mix of registers and materials. There is ‘playtime’ just ‘popping in’, as it so often does and now it’s ‘time to engage’.  

     These poems, prose poems and other texts accumulate and begin to work on the reader as they do though it’s equally quite possible to just dip in and worry away at a poem, enjoying the language and the placing of somewhat discordant phrases which nevertheless begin to ‘make sense’ as the images and sentences accrue and accrete. Linda Black knows how to juxtapose and to create poems which may puzzle and occasionally frustrate but also entertain and make you think. There’s a wealth of creativity here and as I said at the beginning I love this book and could quote from it endlessly. Wonderful stuff.

Steve Spence 15th May 2022

3 responses »

  1. Brilliant full of energy

    Reply
  2. cf. JHP’s nursery rhyme style in ‘Snooty tipoffs’.

    Reply

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