Michael Aiken Reviews Dave Drayton

By | 14 March 2017

The long ‘i’ of ‘ion’ becomes short on the next line (‘this’) before devolving to a long ‘e’ for the next two lines – ‘sea’ and ‘tackier’ – and ultimately returning to a long vowel sound in the final line, ‘type’. The next sound in the first line, a short ‘o’, remains unchanged until line three when it becomes a long ‘u’ before disappearing, only to reappear in the final line in both instances at once. Consonants meanwhile are largely left to fend for themselves, with a few mascots recurring in each piece to create an echo of order, parallel syntax, rhythm and rhyme.

These pieces challenge comfortable reading by creating (in the Freudian sense) an uncanny experience: the combination of look and sound create an expectation that the lines will make sense, that connections exist; but the slipperiness of English orthography (not to mention the peculiarities of individual and regional accents) continually creates escape valves, gateways through which one morpheme transmutes into another by way of similar presentation. These similar, but never identical features serve as a permeable boundary between ideas and meaning, but also, because of that permeability, fail to contain and define them. In these haiturograms, the author doesn’t surrender subjectivity, but he does submit it to the sea of instability inherent in our written language. Initial phrases quickly disintegrate and recombine in ways he might direct but can hardly hope to control. To further torture the water analogy, Dayton’s mode could be compared to watching someone hit a pond with a stick in the hope of making interesting patterns – not entirely random, decidedly instigated by a meaningful will, but substantially unpredictable. His is a violent, investigative but immediately conceded attempt to discover something unique.

With this book Drayton pushes innovation and play in every direction he can find. Along with the cryptic novelty of the possible title-forms, other components of the book’s formal presentation are marshalled to actively contribute to the creative work, most notably, the table of contents which itself incepts the entire book-length work. Listed, the contents function as five haiturograms (or perhaps one long one), and so form an integral part of the work – a prologue or prelude which is then further delved into as each piece in the book interrogates a single line of this master template.

Haiturograms is a fine instance of the vital formal interrogation running through contemporary poetics. While recalling many of the foundational formal experimenters of the twentieth century, Drayton’s work has a charm of its own, an incompleteness to the logic of constraint which invites and impels closer critique of the conventions constraining less provocative contemporary forms, and the practice of writing in general.

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