It’s apt, if not deliberately planned, that this blog review should follow a post entitled Love, love, love, as I’ve just finished reading and love, love, love Sarah Lang’s For Tamara, which is itself a kind of love letter.
I heard about this book from a review on B O D Y. I don’t often buy on the basis of reviews. But both the review and the quotes from the work convinced me it was worth the risk. And I’m so glad that I did.
Described as a long poem but also genre-bending, this book is a delightful and moving mixture of so many things.
First up, the narrative is gripping. I say narrative but the interesting and beguiling thing about this story is that it is not only fragmentary but as if related in a continuous state where all times exist almost spontaneously at once. Or, to borrow, from Lang’s own words: “I can write you this book because I’ve never seen time as linear. / I get it, / but I don’t get why I can revisit any time I want:”.
But, for this to properly make sense, maybe I’d best back up in my description of the book. The setting is a post-apocalyptic one, mostly in the form of a letter from the narrator to her daughter, Tamara. But even this, is not that clear-cut, as the narrator also addresses her absent husband, Tamara’s father. It is also more than just a love-letter, it is a live-letter too.
Tips for survival, medical advice, knowledge that a daughter should learn, memories of how the world was, the parts of the world still beautiful now, the beauty of Tamara, what the narrator would ideally like to give her child, how much she loves her child and her husband – all these strands and more are interweaved.
The text is presented on the borderline between poetry and prose, being laid out as prose but with / marking what I take as breath pauses. There are occasional rhymes, but the poetry, for me, is in the beauty of the rhythm, the careful word choice, details and juxtapositions.
We never find out exactly what happened, in fact, are deliberately not told. But the emotional core of this narrative is as true in our non-apocalyptic world as it is in the book, perhaps even more so, as it gives weight to valuing and protecting what we have while we have it.
It sounds almost too good to be true that two of the most delicious things – poetry and chocolate – should be successfully combined. But this is exactly what Pascal O’ Loughlin’s Chocoholochismo from zimZalla avant objects does. And what’s more, without the feared hip-rounding calories.
At 30 chocolate poem postcards in a chocolate bar wrapper for just £5, this is also incredibly good value for money. Most of the postcard images are the surface of an unwrapped chocolate bar. Besides reinforcing the theme, this also means the pictures don’t detract or distract from the words on the back, and that the three (in my pack at least) cards with different images really catch one’s attention.
Some of the poems on the back grabbed me more than others, as is always going to be the case, but they are all linguistically appealing and intriguing, many very sensual, and many containing appealing narrative fragments. Besides enjoying each in their own right, I very much enjoyed being able to shuffle and reorder the postcards, randomly creating different emotional and narrative interpretations in this way.
I believe this item has proved so popular that it’s now sold out. But there might be a second run of them, so it’s probably worth registering an interest now if this appeals to you.
apART from language
In terms of microreviews, averbaldraftsone&otherstories by bruno neiva (Knives, Forks and Spoons Press) is perhaps one of the most challenging collections I’ve had in a while.
This is partly its form lying in, between and out of both poetry and art. It is also down, quite simply, to me not having a huge background knowledge or experience of vispo or art. That said, as I intend my microreviews more at an enthusiasms level in terms of what a non-poet or academic might get from a text rather than at a ‘critique’ level, this is perhaps also an advantage.
However, it is quite hard though to come to this work completely afresh or uninformed. The back cover blurb mentions the move from ‘asemic’ to ‘averbal’ and I found this useful in approaching the work.
“Asemic writing is a wordless open semantic form of writing”, Wikipedia informs me. Link the wordless and writing and you get something that suggests pictograms or ideograms or text in forms that are not words, abstraction, and interpretation in the hands of the reader/viewer.
Averbal, being different to asemic, suggests perhaps then either work that is unspoken, or maybe work without verbs. But the interesting thing about the book title is that by running on the words without spaces (wordless yet worded), Neiva leaves open the possibility that this is work which is ‘averbal’ (as some, but not all, individual poems suggest) or its opposite ‘a verbal’ (perhaps in the sense of the ‘verb’ interpretation, as all these pieces embody layers of ‘doing’ to exist – cutting, collaging, sticking, printing, drawing…). Before I even open the pages then, I am expecting layers and artistic creations that are both one thing, and possibly at times its polar opposite.
For me, even just flicking through, this work lies closer to art than poetry, at least as we often perceive it. There is, comparatively, not a lot of text included overall. So, for ease, I’m going to refer to the pieces as pictures, that is clearly reproduced photos of work created often with a cardboard and/or collage element.
The quality of the book’s pictures and paper is good. It shows of the colours, shapes and details well.
The opening two pictures with their washed-out and merging effects are visually pleasing and intriguing. A few of the following cardboard pieces don’t grab me as much – these tend to be the plainer or less text included pieces.
Here, I acknowledge my bias. I love text, not just in its words and sounds, but how beautiful it can look on the page. It is unsurprising then that my favourites include the collaged ‘How to mend an averbal. 3’ (beautiful colours and text), ‘not… or a method. 2’ (fascinating, appealing outlines and collage fragments) and the intriguing juxtaposition with corrugated cardboard and overlaid text fragments in ES.
Other favourites are the outline (tracing paper?) images and text in the three ‘MORE OR LESS 1’ pictures and the red colour, text fragments, shape and layout in the bold and fairly minimalistic three ‘John Red’ pieces and the three ‘averbalba(r)’ pieces . Different colours and text appeal in the four yellow and green many times overlaid pieces ‘re-blue’ and ‘text curado’ sequences.
It’s worth stating the obvious here, that I’m not trying to interpret these pieces, merely outline what appeals. This is partly because it seems in the nature of such work to leave interpretation open to the audience – you need to see these pieces for yourself. But it’s also because, for me, they don’t need interpretation, maybe even refute it. I like and interact with them on a purely visual appreciation basis without needing to know or impose a meaning on them.
In this sense, I return again to the book title: averbaldraftsone&otherstories. These are drafts perhaps in terms of no words/text being finished, as well as the makeshift nature of the often cardboard materials/tracing paper. Or, if the ‘d’ is an abbreviated past participle of averbal’d, the rafts that the cardboard pieces evoke, upon which fragmented texts and shapes float. Many of these also quite ‘bald’ in their sparseness or refusal to tell all. Emotionally and visually, I feel that they all have stories. But I do not feel the need to voice them, or have them voiced for me, averbal is enough as it is.