Monday, May 20, 2013

'The Non Herein'- A Review by Christopher Barnes

This is an ambitious group of poems of considerable formal dexterity.  An avant-garde tract of angst, night terrors, the quest for renewal and ultimate loss.  The poems churn upon themselves in echoes.  Half and distorted repetitions create unity across all of the poems which keeps the rhythm moving.
          “Tracing the night’s
          Parchment”.
And “Of the traces of –“are good examples.  The language and grammatical units disconnect and are often left uncompleted which de-familiarises our expectations of what words normally do.
          “Absent…we’ll
          …laughter till the lungs bleed dry of corrugated flowerings”
This enacts these poem’s themes concretely.  Crafted into the dissonance of the physical language, is a sense of breathlessness and even fear.   This is a series of poems of torture, mayhem, death and the realities of the body.  The careful honing of lines and verses and the tense economy used create a shape that brings to my mind the genre New Music.  Line endings and rhythms also create a sense of controlled and well-tested soundscapes.
          “Choke
         Of dust and of the
         Parched sun
         Of bled”.
These are difficult poems, ordinary perceptions are de-habituated.  We are in a place broken which is a frightening at-the-edge experience.  Though the end is a passing out, “Fading wishful fading ever knowing none of it”.
It does not feel like the end because of the circularity of these poem’s psychological and visual cat’s cradles.  The conscious voice in the set of poems could wake up at the beginning and start over.
The collection’s title holds within it its opposite ‘the herein’.  The dichotomy between the internal/external seems to suggest a constant search to find meaning, connecting the persona’s internal life to the world in an Existential vacuum, a voice in the wilderness,            
         “And the brutal fist
          Of the herein”, the poet adds, as well as the tension and confusion of verses such as,
          “Head non vast
          Non herein
          Scattered speeches of”, the central failed quest being to unite the two.
The first line “Into Echoing –“springs into action as ‘a shall we begin’, with the promise of the half-repetitions and turnings back that sustain these poem’s themes and obsessions.  The line endings are quite brilliant.  Look at the way
          “Till severed
          Knocking upon the
          Bone chimes
          Hollow” creates a psychological gap or gasp, a vertigo hangs on the use of the world “the”.  There are instances of synaesthesia which show that we can’t trust the subject matter to stay stable, nor the senses,
          “Breathless the eye”.
There is a mention of opiates and the experience is like a bad trip of the soul which can be used as a device to explain the unfamiliar.  There is also the occasional suggestion of a struggle for faith.
          “(Bring out your dead)” seems apocalyptic, an
          “The lightning
         Of the upturned
          Eyes”, could subtly reference religion, though the poems seem Nietzschen.   There isn’t an ‘I’ in these poems, the closest we get to an identifiable persona is that some things are
          “(Asked of)”.  That in itself is a very radical challenge, there is only witnessing.  The hinted at persona is
          “Next to none
          And nothing next”.
The poems haunt with lines such as,
          “Or a locket of
          Shadow”, not quite sentimental, or entirely romantic in these contexts of visceral imagery and the poetry of the bodily real,
          “Doused by final piss”.
There is great skill in the lines,
          “Split skyline of
          Heaving silences”, suggesting chasms that want to be alive and personified but lack the ability to connect their herein with their non herein.  And the weight of the word “black” in,
          “Breathing of the black pulse” is tonally (musically) disturbing as it fights with the “ck” “lse” glooping sounds.
    
The poem’s imagery is bleak, fragmentary and sometimes deadly,
          “Ah bone wither”, but notice how carefully, how artfully the poet controls the havoc by means of fine articulation,
          “Skull
          Droplets of rampage
         The dead eyes wastage of it”, even the chaos has style.
   
Meanings jump to their opposites,
          “Ballast heart” implies the hope of safety, the heart as stable but later…
          “Spew of the heart’s cancer”.  There is a line where the gaps between words stretch into two spaces, a void for something to slip into that never comes, a visual representation of it.  We are “Lingering on the dice of loss”, chance has brought us here not self-making, which must therefore hold an absence of guilt.
          “Echo
          (None)
          Echo
          (None)” is a ghostly chorus of lack, deceptively simple but profound.
         “Breath (Till Knock) -
          Breath
         The knock of absence” has dramatic urgency; with terror embedded but the knock is also a chasm, a vertigo.   And like many quests, in the end there is nothing to find, nothing to know, “Knowing of the which or when of naught” leaves mere disappointment.
    
The line “Head of sand” is brilliantly Surrealist but as important as it is as an image, just as striking is its economy.  But all things fall into each other,
          “Smear of night
          Till flesh smeared” is closer to Impressionism in its blurriness.
And the norms of narrative are skewed to be only potential narratives,
          “Further back in till forage laughter” is merely a hint.
Some echoes are very subtle,
          “Bone orchid” becomes
          “Orchid
           (Orchid)” so we can’t read the “Orchid” without thinking of bones.  And the line
          “All along the walls the fathom refusing to scream of it” shouldn’t work.  There is no natural caesura; the line has a magnet in it pulling us past the scream.  Throughout these poems there is a need to grasp language in its meanings which forever change and are elusive.  And whether language is decorative or destitute, making language unexpected is at the core of Michael Mc Aloran’s talent.