Ira Lightman reviews ‘The Pustoy’ by Philippe Blenkiron

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is a book someone could turn into a Hollywood movie.

Written in a genuinely 60s poetry style, with blocks of indented prosaic lines broken at unusual places and sudden Grand Guignol turns of phrase and compression of language (dropping out definite and indefinite articles), its affectations feel unaffected, of a piece, 60s. As such, it is a triumph of risk, a voice attempted and achieved. One can imagine the 21st century poet Blenkiron, graduate of creative writing, blenching sometimes at his own poetic voice and wondering if he should add in notes, more narrative, more conversational English. One can be grateful he choose not to, and went with the voice.

This is sci-fi poetry, and with voices in it. Sometimes it has the grand phrasing around a simple stark idea of an Arthur C Clarke. Sometimes it feels like a new kind of Crow, with a Hughesian intensity of amoral villainy that also speaks to our selfish inner brat. The world is too crowded, the problems seem immense, the money not there. One sees around one all the short-cuts of road rage, whipped up hysteria against the Scrounger and Immigrant, and the fact that we have a government that is openly attacking and impoverishing sections of the community while semi-passively and even sadistically the majority sits back and does little. As Clarke would do, Blenkiron recasts our present-day world as a dystopia in which the attacking and impoverishing is taken a stage further, in front of citizens’ eyes and still they do nothing to help fellow humans.

Because the fellow humans on the margins are now called, by an incoming demagogue of a Prime Minister, the “Pustoy” (the empty, the soulless). And the Pustoy are being hunted down, murdered in the pages of the poems like the victims of Crow. A dark state, similar to that in Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta, with, again, a Crow-like villain in active madness personally leading the violence with his own self-righteousness, is at work. And people look on, passively, almost enjoying the despair.

 

And I would pay

through the eyes

if there were a tax on a sleepless night.

I’d have paid with my eyes

not to have seen you taken;

collected like some precious stone from a cave wall,

axed and bagged.

(“PETER MASON”)

 

The language is rhetorical, and rather like a screenwriter’s in a schlock B movie. One can imagine a hundred creative writing lecturers descending to ask for the language to be made more like everyone else’s poems. But there is something marvellous in the overall project, something Clarkean in the push to tell the narrative, and the lines are more like the metaphor-making of actual people; mixed and gawky. They are therefore much more moving, and the sense is made of a whole culture facing the new government, and everyone reacted pole-axed and a bit dumb-ass.

Phrases pop up throughout the book that bring a John Berryman, almost Olson, clump of descriptive intensity, coming close to exaggeration and dissonance, an overplus of possible ideas and puns just plonked there.

 

I wonder, unwound toy,

if they buried your turn-key

somewhere near you.

(“UNWOUND”)

 

dense rock pours

moonlight

clam spit and grit

turn pearl

(“STILL THURSDAY”)

 

 

And sometimes this rises to a more controlled Peter Reading like, and less flailing, cold savagery:

And eager to please their masters,

eager to learn, bull-headed beasties trot beside them.

Their hearts of gold, tarnished, only slightly,

by the throats they carry in their mouths.

(“OPERATION STAFFHOUND”)

 

But, note, this is the end of a poem in which actual people have become like dogs, and then the people-dogs have actual-dogs to accompany them; and this is told in a prosaic lollopping style “only slightly” rather than as Reading would have done all in fragments, all milled and jagged. “Throats they carry in their mouths” is the single great poetic line I’ll take from reading this book.

It’s a very unusual book, and it feels as if it pushes stylistically against the accepted styles of our age. It doesn’t do this by backward-looking retreat into the marbled style of any one of this generation’s forebears. Instead, it pushes forward with a story to tell, a cast of characters (often caricatures, but in the sense of Punch and Judy not of ineptitude). Its images last with one, and its world, and I could see it taken forward for screenplay adaptation, whole lines of dialogue and the overall set-up and the movement from poem to poem seamlessly transferring over. I wouldn’t especially want to go back and read the whole book again, nor would I signal out one poem to show to a student. I would say, read the book, get challenged about what style you’re using, and challenged about the casual violence of the modern clean-up squads of modern governments. As an outcome of reading a book, that’s not a bad result.

 

 

Order your copy of The Pustoy by Philippe Blenkiron, published by Dagda Publishing here

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Philippe Blenkiron

 

 

Samhain Fire

These words are ash, and don’t you forget it.
You, whose face could churn butter;
whose gurning mouth would melt it;
and whose voice could stick it to the pan.

You, who would salvage the un-burnt via scraping;
spread it upon toasted Barmbrack;
and break speckled bread whilst wassailing your fortune –
I hope you choke on that hidden sixpence.

The black cat that crossed your path that day was mine
and we were voyeurs through liquid crystal
so go ahead, sing your je ne regrette rien.
I will throw your letter onto the Samhain fire.

I’ve carved your face into a hollowed turnip
so that when the guisers come, bearing sacks,
as a treat, I can teach them to memorise
your idle threats.

 

 

Philippe Blenkiron holds an MA in Creative Writing from Keele University. His work has previously featured in Shoestring Magazine’s various publications and saw him shortlisted for the Roy Fisher Prize 2011. His poem ‘Wind Farms’ will appear in the upcoming Offa’s Press ‘We’re All in This Together’ anthology. He is currently focused on his PhD in Philosophy which he works on in between being a Teaching Assistant.

Note: Samhain is pronounced “Sow” (as in a female pig)

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Philippe Blenkiron Reviews Chris Emery’s ‘The Departure’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When reading Chris Emery’s latest work, I am struck by the nostalgia of loading suitcases into a 5am taxi taking me to Gatwick airport; setting-out before most have even risen. There is a dawn-ness to his work; while there is darkness, the dark qualities of the pieces show remnisence and hindsight, bringing lightness to the load – this is not an abandoning, but an intrepid departure. But from what? Oneself? Reality? Or is it where the departure is to that really matters?

I am unfortunate in that I have not read Emery’s previous work. Duhig states that this apt title speaks of a shift in direction and range; however departure seems too strong a word to refer solely to Emery’s former writing style. For example, a quick bit of internet research reveals that Emery has always had a penchant for the long-line, and that this almost always pays off thanks to the colour and captivating imagery of the language present: ‘You’re often sat next to a dog turd with lots of beetles caring.’ (‘Dandelions’) ‘Up the pissy steps we find nostalgia’s vein-blue glamour. (‘M1 3LA’)

There are moments of great lucidity and philosophical insight in Emery’s poetry, and a vocabulary born from experience that doesn’t cry pretentious. There is grit, but not for its own sake, and a clean intelligence lies beneath “the dirt the dirt the dirt” of The Bukowskis that makes way for the brave political admonitions (‘The Destroyers Convention’ and ‘Guest Starring’). It is also nice to see a dialogue poem in the form of ‘Carl’s Job’; these are rare and, to me, pave a way forward in poetry. Emery’s excellent execution of this form delivers a haunting exchange of movie-talk, and shows the range of his literary prowess:“‘I’ve no further plans on killing’ I said. ‘Those days are done.’ / ‘Let me tell you, Bud,’ said Carl. ‘Those days are sitting here now.’”

Reading The Departure is to trespass on the cognitive acres of an astute mind. However, here in lies the departure from reality; some pieces suffer from perhaps too much ambiguity and leave the reader feeling as though they are surveying a dreamscape too immaterial to grasp. But I would hasten to add that I feel Emery earns the right to this as the rest of the collection contains a great deal of concrete – albeit fragmented as times. ‘Why bother pouring such weather / under the goose moon.’

So what is left once the departing has departed? The Departure also offers moments of journey and arrival, but they strike me more as re-imaginings and mental time travel; no true movement is made from the initial departing position. The final poem of the collection, a haiku entitled ‘Promenading’, tells of a show on the end of a pier. Whether the perspective is meant to be of looking out to the end of the pier, or of gazing out to sea from the end, is unclear. Whatever the case, The Departure leaves us as it greeted us, staring into the distance, into the water; a [SPOILER ALERT!] Capricornic sea-goat perpetually traversing into a new era. We only have one way to go, and it’s wet.

 

 

The Departure by Chris Emery, 2012, Salt Publishing. ISBN 978-1-907773-15-0. £12.99  Click here for more information.

 

 

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Philippe Blenkiron

The Examined Life of Dr. X

O, former tennis-player!
Your closet rasps with the bones
of carbon-fibre skeletons

where the leads of divorce-lost dogs
hang – their slack ligaments –
and noose your marriage muscle.

O, maker of uncomfortable party guests!
Your wallet-moths flutter dusty
over my best wine, telling tales

of white whales speared by rival seamen;
of doctorates in all that you once did.
You, sir, need a project.

O, troubled ornithologist!
Your binoculars only magnify
your desperate doe-eyed sight-slit

and your depth perception? – Atrocious!
You break my tables with your cyclopean visage.
Perhaps it’s best if you left.

O, pig-iron sculptor of retrospection!
Your choice in taxi-firm gases my petunias,
and they weep to your hemlock-breath slurred Adieu.

Yet, you are the talk of the floor, absent sleb.
The dregs of your glass; a narcissian pool,
and the carpet-trodden amuse-bouche
bests the bust of Socrates as centrepiece.

 

 

Philippe Blenkiron holds an MA in Creative Writing from Keele University. His work has been previously published in Shoestring Magazine and recently saw him shortlisted for the ‘Roy Fisher Prize for Poetry’. He is currently focused on a project concerning a saga of Narrative/Dialogue poems, a selection of which are available at: http://pustoi.wordpress.com/

 

 

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