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Tag Archives: William Faulkner

Fever Hammers by Iain Sinclair (Face Press)

Fever Hammers by Iain Sinclair (Face Press)

Fever Hammers it probably doesn’t have to be stressed is a peculiarly strong and resolute title for a collection of prose poems. The general effect of reading through this I thought was that the writing is crisp, accomplished and taut and there is an abiding tough mindedness, making few concessions, driving it along.

Sinclair presents the material in three clearly delineated presentations, red, yellow and blue, each with a charged and resonant epigraph. The first is from William Faulkner’s Light in August speaking of ‘a ghost travelling half a mile ahead’. I don’t know that I can entirely marry this up with the general progression of the text, but it is pungent and affecting. 

The titles of the pieces actually draw on and reflect the material of the text. The first piece is ‘Dogs on the Lawn’ and this reflects a turn of phrase in the piece itself,- ‘The dogs on the generous public lawns are sniffing at small pegged portraits’ (p7) as well as ‘licking drops of their own piss’. This perhaps bespeaks an astringent satire, and dogs in that sense of being vociferous, never mind loyal. 

This first piece has its surprises and a bit of inscrutability, name checking Santiago, Arizona and New Mexico. ‘The village cobbles’ he writes ‘are so many blind eyes of the interrogated’, ‘where exit stratagems are absent’, whose force of expression perhaps does not need too much further scrutiny. However if ‘the interrogated’ is meant as part of a larger narrative it is not entirely clear where it goes. One can conjure up images of fierce resistance, but then who is doing the interrogating, from which exit stratagems are absent? The tendency perhaps is to think of strong resistances, of persecution and oppression. And indeed, are the ‘hammers’ directed against this. This could be very bracing, and yet it is not entirely spelled out, as if instead it was some kind of piercing dystopia, one with little prospect of escape. Is this a barbed satire directed against the prevailing way of the world?

I need hardly add that the text holds up well to rereading, plainly well thought out besides its forceful conviction. The closing piece is ‘Solid But Expendable’, wherein again the words show up in the text,- ‘Bernard Lee/ solid but expendable as ever’ (p27), Lee probably best known for portraying M in the earlier Bond films. The final line is ‘or footnote of prophecy in a twice reprinted volume’ and the penultimate ‘that ghost as sad as cinema’ after invoking Orson Welles and The Third Man. We have something of a conflation of media here, words/texts as well as cinema, although some semioticians might wish to designate everything as a text, an entity, a corralling of memes. Might the fever hammer be a resistance against expendability. 

A minor quandary might be trying to grasp where the colours theme fits in here; it doesn’t seem to me to be foregrounded. What one is left with is that peculiarly gripping if not intense turn of phrase, ‘Mr Orson Welles…another planet entirely’ (p27), although one notes that the endpapers are red.

Is a point reached where the foregrounding presentation doesn’t seem wholly indicative of the material of the text? This of course is not entirely unusual. One can be carried along by processes of emphasis and tone. Lawn dogs and reliable spies. I suppose I might suggest that this very capable text needs room to breathe, and that the design features emphasise matters that are elsewhere unresolved. And what is it about colour;- the reds of youth and the maturity of blue, the purported cowardliness if not naivety of yellow. 

I’d have to say the textual presentation is very coherent stylistically, affecting and expressive. About all that might be lacking is a sense of where this narrative leads and what it is trying to tell us, outside of ‘sad cinema ghosts’ or as the epigraph states on page 21, ‘directed by ephemeral voices’.

All told, I think this is strongly expressed and very relevant. There may be quibbles about connecting together the text’s themes, but there is much there to chew on. I am reminded that we often don’t know what we’re going to say until we’ve said it, and then of course try to deal with the consequences.

This then is a very notable contribution from Iain Sinclair, who is certainly recollected as editor of the quite vital Conductors of Chaos poetry anthology, with an enlightening introduction. Colour perhaps remains inscrutable, tied up perhaps with notions of qualia in philosophy. I can’t help but feel too that if the endnote is solid and expendable this says something to the merit of solidity, albeit that we must deal also with the ghostly or prophetic for those who might perceive it.

Clark Allison 20th November 2021

Between The Music And The Sun by Andrew Hughes (Literary Alchemy Press)

Between The Music And The Sun by Andrew Hughes (Literary Alchemy Press)

     I reached out to Andrew Hughes, who is my former student, while I was reading his short fiction collection Between the Music and the Sun and had a quick conversation with him about what he was doing in these stories, half of which are set in Nashville, Tennessee and half of which are set in Phoenix, Arizona. He told me that part of the project was to capture the new American South and desert Southwest and how the working class lives within it, which intrigues me of course. Like every other American, I was raised on a literary diet rich in the works of Southern authors, but only to a certain point in time. My Southern reading includes Zora Neale Hurston, Flannery O’Connor, and William Faulkner, and so my understanding of that region is limited to images that have become stereotypes. My knowledge of the desert Southwest is even more narrow, so I was eager to get a little better insight into how the working class lives in these places. I am pleased to write that Hughes’s collection complicates my understanding of these regions, and that I was surprised to see that his South and Southwest are places of interior spaces. Where Falkner might have had his characters outdoors, sweating away in a heat, Hughes’s working class people have moved indoors. After all, much of fieldwork has been mechanized. Instead of a rich sense of the outdoors, his characters have been driven into the blandly air conditioned interiors of the service and health care careers to live lives of hidden insignificance where they feel anonymous and cut off from the world.

     Hughes’s Nashville is a place of bars, restaurants, and hospitals where people are not enjoying themselves or being healed but facing the indignities of jobs that cut them off from their humanity. I was reminded again and again of the television show The Office where David Brent humiliates and is humiliated, and everyone must smile or risk losing their livelihoods. That is Hughes’s new South. Gone is the richness and trauma to be replaced by the slow grinding that defines so much of this world. In one story, told from the point of view of Mica, a doctor working in a hospital, a paramedic is told to “Get out of my ER” (15). He has not erred in any way. He has simply finished his report and is dismissed in the most demeaning of ways. In another story, Adrian works behind the scenes in a bar that serves the vast music world of Nashville. He is floating through life without focus because all there is for him is an endless progression of days in climate controlled and fluorescent lit rooms where he never sees the sun or moon save for those moments when he is traveling between work and his apartment. His life decisions come as reactions to things that he feels are happening to him, the unplanned birth of a daughter he no longer is allowed to spend time with and the suicide of an old friend. There is no agency to these characters’ lives, just the urge to keep surviving barely from one day to the next.

     The outdoors and the natural world become even more cut off from the characters in Phoenix. That world is one of great hostility, a hellscape where people are cast if they commit the sins of falling into debt too deeply or losing their jobs. After all, this is the bare desert, where temperatures often stay above forty degrees celsius for nearly half the year. To lose one’s job is to become homeless and to live in the endless grinding heat that does not relent even at night. The only solace these characters find is within a clearly defined pattern of drinking: 

You drank to reach a place where rules didn’t exist. You became a child. Do that too much though, you get labeled an alcoholic. So, have fun, but not too much fun, or they’ll treat you like a villain. (57)

It is vital in this world to follow these rules because being cast out leads to fates worse than death like Jada who must leave her toddler daughter hiding in an alley as she prostitutes herself or an unnamed homeless man who lives near the protagonist of another story:

During the days he sweats and broils in the desert sun, talking to himself in long, unintelligible monologues. Sometimes, he lies on the sidewalk, so hot it scalds his skin, and crawls, his nails scraping long white streaks in the sidewalk. (61)

To play by the rules for the working class in this city is to live a life of great blandness, but it is better than the hell that waits for people who do not, people who are cast outside and punished for not fitting in.

     I found this look at how the world has changed intriguing. I do not know what I was expecting this vision of the South and Southwest to be, but it is not hopeful, and it is not inspiring. It reflects the current housing and wage crisis that seems to be affecting every aspect of life in the United States.

John Brantingham 16th September 2021

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