at Plan 99 at the Manx this afternoon read to a packed audience.
One of the most memorable moments of the reading for me was when Steven Ross Smith read from fluttertongue 4: adagio for the pressured surround (NeWest Press, 2007). he read a 12 minute section, the lines were spare and full of silence. the audience responded by being silent in return, probably one of the best responses a writer can get to his work. Silence is an important and effective part of Smith’s poetry. The lines are original and meditative; like an adagio in music, this long poem is slow and graceful; like an adagio in dance, this poem is a sequence of controlled and graceful movements, but not overly controlled, thanks to the silence:
“scavenging an inkdrop, squeezing featherdry alphabet for juice”
each section whether it be one line or a short paragraph carries an idea or an image and accumulates:
“surrounded by years, self-looped in trees, bush and moss cushion
shores, and here, a stump, a rock, a grazed shin, a breath in the
words should come to ease, shaped as great thoughts”
Accumulation is also a big part of the writing of Shane Rhodes. The Bindery (NeWest Press, 2007). His poems repeat and accumulate to the point where you think you know what he’ll say next, and then he changes. The rhythms are gorgeous and at times possibly even end or internal rhyme? I thought some in a new poem Rhodes read about the Botticelli painting the Birth of Venus.
I had to go back to my university poetry text books to figure out that one of the techniques Rhodes uses quite often in his writing is anaphora, which is when two or more lines begin with the same word. The poem “On Travel” uses this technique, such as in the opening lines below:
For anyone who has been sung to in Hebrew by a naked Israeli / at 2 in the morning.
For the girl learning Spanish from English who only spoke / Japanese.
I was happy to hear Rhodes read one of my favourite poems of his “To Elizabeth Bishop” where he dances with repetition and uses it to make tiny changes which change the whole meaning of something:
“Here is a trade. Here is a woman in labour.”
“Here is a trade. Here is a woman’s labour.”
Rhodes blends sensitivity, pathos and humour within tight, yet not predictable, structures.
To me, the two poets’ work seemed to fit together as a whole. Rhodes even mentioned that they approached some themes similarly. There was a yin yang balance to Smith’s silences and Rhodes repetitions. It is good to see a publisher of poetry publishing two very different writing styles.
ps. see Charles' photo of Shane Rhodes here.