Thursday, October 13, 2016

“Pinprick Ekphrastics”: A Review of several chapbooks by Rupert M. Loydell and others

 (publishers: original plus, Analogue Flashback Books, Smallminded Books; all published in 2016 with the exception of Lost in the Slipstream, 2009)

It is rare when a reviewer gets an opportunity to review numerous works from a single author all at once. I start with two mini-books, 3 inches by 4 inches. A Light Shines Down (Smallminded Books), is based on photographs by Gregory Crewdson (which are not included). Hall of Mirrors reminded me of the postcards and other self-made visual–written works that I used to receive by the dozens monthly in the early 2000s when I was an active mail-art poet. It is ingeniously cut and folded from a single piece of paper—a piece of two-dimensional origami that adds an extra layer to the experience of the work.
A good bit of Loydell’s writing is in the form of Ekphrastic poetry (where the poet creates a response to an existing piece of art, be it visual or written/musical). In Love Songs for an Echo, the titles of the poems for the sequence “Nine Postcards” are taken from Hiroshi Yoshimura’s album, Music for Nine Post Cards.
The main themes of Love Songs for an Echo are places, real and imagined (“invisible cities” “crystal city”) and the experiences of travel (“anonymity in a crowded street”): “From the fragments of the world we make meaning, from the notes that we hear we make a song” [“The Notes that We Hear”]
Loydell also extends the boundaries of Ekphrastic works by writing about other poets, musicians, and artists. The writer may be in isolation in the act of creation, but the creative space is crammed full of echoes, Muses, and ghosts: “I always return to the same few writers’ work, which … struggles to find faith in something as the world bewilders and blinds” [“One by One”]
And, of course, on the act of writing itself: “By scattering fragments of text, juxtaposing them with unrelated events or images, you make them appear precious” [“One by One”]. This is the first of many pinpricks in the reviewed works (hard to argue with, and I have no intention of doing so).
Lost in the Slipstream works as a meditation on the nature of time, replete with lines like: “Newspaper cuttings from tomorrow [“Forget”], “the present only exists to stop us being confused by time” [“Middle”], “we all have our own version of you, invented past…” [“Seed”], and “Memory floats back to the surface, mumbling and slightly out of tune” [“Circle”]. This collection’s titles are taken from the D.N.E. album 47 Songs Humans Shouldn’t Sing.
Nerve Damage, which Loydell edited, features texts written in response to a photograph called “The Poet,” taken by Joel-Peter Witkin. Titles such as Paul Sutton’s “The Failed Poet” contributed to the name I gave this review. Sutton’s poem, which leads off the collection, says, “God, is he still writing?/No one reads his stuff, or cares.” Note the layered meaning of “God” here as an general expletive but also, perhaps, as God “himself.” From Alan Halsey’s “The Poet”: “…he was a poet ‘among other things’ but that wasn’t what I’d asked. What interested me were the other things.” In an untitled poem by George Ttoouli: “The audience wilfully ignores the intentions of the poet.”
The responses provide a wide variety of approaches and styles, from literal interpretations of the contents and mise en scène of the elements in the photograph to narratives that use the “characters” in the photograph to create a story to highly experimental pieces that have used the photograph for only the briefest spark of initial inspiration. Ekphrastic poetry should operate this way. Kudos to Loydell for bringing such a wide array of responses to a single prompt.
John Phillips gets the penultimate word in his poem “This”: “Whatever else it is a poem/is often nothing/more than thinking/there’s something there to be/found when there’s/nothing but thinking so.”
The last chapbook I review is The Gospel According to Archbishop Makeshift. The first offering is by Rupert Loydell. I liken the seven pages to the Proverbs of Hell in William Blake’s Marriage of Heaven and Hell. A sample:
“Archbishop Makeshift says this game has no rules but we should all keep playing.”
“Archbishop Makeshift says the voice of the world is hidden deep inside every word he speaks.”
“Archbishop Makeshift says he is pure diamond no his body has been burned away.”
“Archbishop Makeshift says the things you do do things to him.”
“Archbishop Makeshift says starve the guards and feed the hostage.”

Who is the Archbishop? On the cover, in a sketch by A.C. Evans, we have the Archbishop in elaborate, highly detailed mitre, with skeletal face and his shoulders and chest lighter and lighter as they move downward. As Mike Ferguson tells us, “The Archbishop waxed/lyrical in loose sonnets/with themes found in real life…so sermonizing/without scripture.”
The Archbishop is also contextualized in “Two Fragments from the Makeshift School,” written by H.L. Hix, which opens: “These two fragments, discovered in the pocket of a plaid jacket at a Salvation Army thrift store…” It further declares that they are deemed to be forgeries by one of his disciples. Indeed. Is the Archbishop only his (mis)interpreted sermons? In poems by Daniel Y Harris and Irene Koronas, we get the run-on sermonizing of Emmanuelle and Paulain Makeshift: Disciples? Counterparts? Echoes?
In a title-nod to the Beatles, “Poem (Revolution #19)” gives us the provocative: “Who can live/where happiness is considered a disgrace?” and “this brute of a country is more than I can stand—/let it be delivered into the hands of foreigners.” Not even the Archbishop’s admonishments, observations, and prescriptions can save them.
In another poem by Loydell, “The Shape of Paradise,” he says, “the magician in me has run out of spells.” Considering that “spell(-)ing” of words goes back to a time when mystics, alchemists, and orators better understood the power behind words and their sounds, this is a hard statement indeed and resonates with the larger thesis that poetry and poets have lost their power.
Book-ending with the original story of Archbishop Makeshift is the final poem, by Charlie Baylis, which reports that “The following Sunday I see the Archbishop collapsed in a deckchair, sporting a pink cagoule. ‘Oh Father!’ I always knew it would end like this.”
Loydell and company seem to know the same of all of us poets, everywhere.

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