Review by Mark William Jackson
A year ago I was sitting here telling you about Triptych Poets Issue 2 from the good people at Blemish Books. I told you about the Penguin Modern Poets series, and how Triptych continues the same tradition – take three poets, produce their chapbooks, shove them all between one set of covers and BAM! introductions and value-for-money all in one neat package. A year is a long time in poetry (well, not really, a century is a short time in poetry), and in the last year I’ve stopped submitting and reviewing. That was until Verity La asked me for a review. I said, ‘No, I don’t do reviews anymore.’ Verity La said, ‘It’s for Triptych number 3.’ I said, ‘Cool, send it over.’
The Triptych Poets Issue 3 covers try to contain the words of P.S. Cottier, Joan Kerr, and J.C. Inman.
The sample I’ve taken of Cottier’s poetry from the collection is observational. In ‘Five Stupid Women’ she sits watching some sort of Stepford wives reunion. Five ladies sitting around discussing nothing much deeper than Paris Hilton and dietary tips:
That one mistakes her daughter’s asides
for intelligence. Her son’s violence,
pushing through toddlers, crowing,
she calls fun, and sniggers.
We’ve all sat at cafes, listening in on the next table, rolling our eyes, internally screaming. Cottier captures the moment with an acerbic, black comedic tone, and a rhythm that marches to a regimented expectation, as I’d imagine the pounding of the shallow ladies jowls would have flapped out their rhythm.
The sporty one, restless in shorts and runners,
speaks sprintingly of lowered GI, then soldiers on…
…Comparing income in the stream
of decaffeinated soyacino.
The poem is effectively one stanza, to aid the reader’s rhythm, the regiment of which I spoke. Except for the last two lines, where Cottier looks back at the poetic persona.
And I sit alone, reading the big boys’ words,
sharpening my little quill.
‘My father’s steps’ by Joan Kerr is eulogic, as you’d expect from the title. In four sections, non-rhyming couples number 6-7-8-6, no noticeable metre. The form slows the reader, extracts the pathos – we are reading about a life lived and worthy of note. The narrative voice, the child of the man, both strong and weak at the same time, and in awe of the man and the subtleties of a time past.
…When he sees I’m trying to keep
in step he alters his rhythm, short long
slow quick. He pretends he doesn’t see how I skip
and stride to keep in step.
There’s a slight smile at the corners of his mouth
but he’ll never stop and laugh, or let me win.
From section one, these lines demonstrate a controlled playfulness in the man, but he maintains a distance, leading the reader to the closing couples of the section:
I always wondered what he thought of me
a question with no boundary
like wondering how the world
that was so big could fit into my eye.
A big question dragged out from childhood memories.
Sections two and three of this poem talk of the house, first empty of people, then the clearing of possessions. The distant tone is maintained in describing the ease in which the house is cleared, people amazed that items are being thrown:
but it was easy in the rhythm of the work.
Two days, not thinking. It was done.
There’s nothing sacred here.
There’s nothing that won’t sink.
Section four folds time into itself:
Under this moon, the earth seems uninhabited.
It might be 80 years ago, the moon unnoticed
by a boy with his head full of Latin,
it might be 80 days ago, the moon unnoticed
by an old man asleep at 6 o’clock at night…
… Ninety years, spanning three thousand years
close into distance, silence and the moon
going its way across this little world.
J.C. Inman launches into ‘Your Grandfather’ with a long line, no punctuation:
We held our breath around the breathless beanpole of your grandfather
In a hospital room a family stands around in support:
Hands holding a thread that linked each to each.
I think a rope woven from such silk
Would be called family ties.
The narrative voice is family only through a relationship, as such a distant tone seeps through, similar to Kerr’s ‘My father’s steps’, but providing a more emotional reportage:
For years he had battled the Minotaur with tightened lips and squared jaw.
In the dark he dropped the string and forgot your face.
Lost in a labyrinth, the flesh that fathered the family was laid on a bed
Of stainless and strap until eyes dull-mirrored the fluorescent lights.
Contrast this tone with ‘Elegy for the Decadents’. A longing for poetic tools of the past, now replaced by laptops and blackberries.
Lament the quill in tinctured tears!…
…Ars Poetica is dead!
Exclaimed lamentations, angry cries as new poets are
crouched around computers and coffee shops!
The sadness, worthy of the title, closes the poem:
Weep! Weep for the poets past who
lived the art
drinking wine and drenched in cunt.
I didn’t want to write too much analysis in this review; I think the poets’ words speak for themselves. I would have liked to have posted more poems but space is constrained. However, I can post another of my favourite Inman poems, ‘Mantra’, in its entirety:
What else can we do?
The Triptych series continues to impress. How three different poets can be knit together into one seamless collection is a credit to the publishers. The poems flow without troughs, just straight peaks from start to finish.
Triptych Poets Issue 3
P.S Cottier, Joan Kerr, J.C. Inman
Blemish Books, 2012
85 pages, $15.