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Mark Burnhope’s Species (Nine Arches Press)

Mark Burnhope’s Species (Nine Arches Press)

Poet, disability activist and co-editor of Boscombe Revolution, with Paul Hawkins, Mark Burnhope has produced an energetic and thoughtful first collection in the Nine Arches Press Debut new poet series. Species explores bodily identities, disability and ideas of ‘otherness’ seeing the body as a point of loss, beauty and conflict. There is a degree of anger and protest against, amongst other things, Social Darwinism and categorisation that emerges through a penetrating playfulness. The distinction between human and animal is blurred. I admire both its provocativeness and use of unusual angles and approaches to realign and probe.

‘The Species That Begat The Binaries’ is an impressive poem playing with ideas of ordering and naming of species and dualistic thinking, and serves to establish the book’s theme.

The Moral is a magnificently resilient mammal:
both natural / unnatural, and neither thanks
to its ability to buck the competition rider
off its saddled back.
Police and Paralympians owe much
to its domestication, the increasing rarity
of its wild-stampede ways of working.

The poem leads to consideration of the meaning of constriction, the impact of disability on identity and the chameleon nature of binaries, such as figure and disfigure, obedience and disobedience, beast and burden, and so on. This forceful poem precedes the deadpan ‘ “Am I Disabled?” A Self-Diagnosis Questionnaire’ which asks whether ‘you wrestle with what your feet are for?’ and ‘Can you throw over your shoulder a) a tennis ball? b) a school satchel? c) a school teacher?’

Playfulness is given full rein in the ‘Abnominations’ sequence of poems and the ‘Paralympic Lessons: The Atosonnets’. An abnominal is a twenty line poem, developed by the poet, Andrew Philip, using only the letters of the dedicatee’s name, each of which must appear at least once per stanza. The title must be an anagram of their name, and should begin and end by addressing the dedicatee in some way, as in ‘Deviancy as God’ an abnomination for David Gascoyne.

A caved saying: dang dingoes dosing!
Vain dogs, ego-divas, edgy agony-codas

Did as David does: danced giddy, de-
Seeded. Ovid aced yogi’s inane, aged

Voyage. Dived good, snagged a gonad,
Donor in a saved Degas-coven. Navy Dave:

Gay voice, no novice, delicious screed,
Envoy via avid disco-gods and devices:

The poem ‘fragments from The First Week of the World: The Herpetological Bible’ is full of depth playing off different ways and approaches to the natural world.

Sudden mutism,
Idea-death, resort to
‘freedom’ within himself

(Rilke’s transformation,
Heidegger’s institution
of being the poet’s part).

Bonnefoy speaks:
logos, universe, impulse
towards salvation.

This vital and affirmative book concerned with placing and naming of self, species, and other within a split and dangerous world lingers after the first few readings and gets under the reader’s skin. I felt compelled to re-engage.

David Caddy 29th July 2014

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