Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Couplet reviewed

Couplet by James Browning Kepple and Kim Görannson (Pretend Genius Press, 2007)

Couplet is an ingenious object: two poets’ respective collections printed back to back. Each poem is faced, not with a blank page, but with the other poet’s upside-down poem. Hey, it saves paper.
This being Pretend Genius Press, the style is - for want of a more sensible word - experimental. The influence of those dead white men, the Beats, is obvious. A ruddy disregard for traditional forms, syntax and sometimes even spelling makes it challenging but, on the whole, refreshing reading.

James Browning Kepple’s work is open about its angry politics from the start, with pieces about a war veteran seeking forgiveness, the Cuban national baseball team, and the uncomfortably blunt ‘jesus is a walmart’. Another blunt instrument, ‘thunderstorms over virgin galactic’ is frankly judgemental, peering down its nose at the “motley of used money” that can afford to holiday in space. And it’s surprising to find such a modern style turned to conservative nostalgia, as in ‘Gone were the sad daisy’.

But Kepple also achieves moments of serious yum, as in ‘Transient Baltimore Ship Builder’, ‘Jon benet’ or morsels like a "child’s crayon remarks2 ('for a war veteran seeking rose'). Flip the book over and there are further tasty nibbles from Kim Göransson, like the ideas that “hitchcock themselves / under the skin” (‘note found in a notebook on a park bench in a park’).

Göransson’s poetry is more intimate and less punch drunk. Best of anything here is ‘Brigitte Bardot swam in the pool the day my grandmother died’, which juxtaposes the two characters of the title in a truly original way, gorgeously and movingly:

In her last months, she wrote
letters to an American friend, Ethel.
I think it was, Minneapolis.
Nipples darker than dead suns, cutting
through everything. An exchange student,
back in the 40s, those were the days. She
recalls. Slim against a body without shame,
dragging against a bottom of
polished stone.

Kepple credits Dr Polysceni Indya Tzimourtas and Olesya Mishechkina with helping to edit his work. Hm. The book as a whole might have done with a more substantial editor: the torrent of words is overwhelming and it is impossible to get any sense of it as a self-contained unity (or even two self-contained unities). Conversely, if there was never going to be any unifying logic to the collection, it is a shame not to see in Göransson’s roll call ‘the pope is dying and i can’t stop eating’, a poem for which we at Moloch are bound to feel a special fondness, having once been proud to put it into print.

- Ailbhe

1 comment:

Ossian said...

yeah, but it's bloody exciting, isn't it? how many books give off that much energy and innovation? hardly any. this book is like that advert "a million miles from Humdrum". recommended to risk takers. i said to somebody one time, "free jazz sounds like a fire in a pet shop" and he said, "yes, but i like that." he also said it was better to be stabbed than to be bored, but...hey, i must write a story about this guy. Couplet! It's upside-down for godsake. People need that in their lives. How many not only upside-down but interleaved as well books are there? None. One. And it's full of Coleridgesque dreamings and and and...ooh, so good. don't stop. ooh. ;-)