Michael Aiken Reviews Duncan Hose

By | 4 May 2016

Late in the book, just when you think it’s all about ‘sexy’ – and it still is (it’s often difficult not to hear these poems in the voice of Borat, what with all the fixation on sexy time and the continual misspellings) – appears the poem ‘Impudicizia Ricchezza.’ It is a swift, brutal critique of the artifice behind human ideas of ‘sexiness’ and beauty, sardonically noting our failure to value the natural beauty of the world that created us, as well as ridiculing the notion of any god who, embodied in all creation, would allow the world to be exploited by humanity:

Rich in impudence I invented certain phantoms     Whom I gave the soft
      joints of humans
Now I jump like a bliggard whenever they call
	                                        *** & am tres desole when they don’t or willn’t

Her deadfleck rouge and lipstick cartridges made with and paid for by

Much of the action describes marlin pulled from the ‘sexy’ sea, as a whaling ship harvests other marine life in order to process their body fat and oils into beauty products women will smear on their faces in order to look ‘sexy’. Hose might not be the first to address the brutality of our beauty industries, but it’s particularly interesting here in a book which has already worked hard to establish itself as an obsessor over sexiness as a field of knowledge.

In a similar way, Hose’s ongoing, inconsistent misspellings of random words, and the poetry’s broken grammar are at first disruptive, but over time the practice finds a rhythm of its own that ultimately opens the door to expanded and diversified meanings. What to make, for example, of such lines as these from ‘Lobster Chantey.’, a piece about the hanging of a miscreant of some kind:

I had ‘Shirley’ wrote on my boob 
                                        I knowthing about Shirley but 
I had wanted to be Banshee

Note wheydontcha the hour
                    Of my tremendous modestie 

Twas all for plea-sure: now I’m dingling from Tyburn’s Block
The doughty price of one’s libertine
                    Persewed maladvisedly
Tyke hearties my pretties, though I’ve been a disappointment
   From the scaffold the view is greater, of Schroon bay / pond
                    The rumptious cuntling of the sea, the Tipperary shivers
                                                            Of   firtree

The miasma of meaningful collisions in ‘Tyke hearties my pretties’ is engaging enough on its own, hitting us aurally as an approximation of ‘Take heart’ while ‘hearties my pretties’ is simultaneously witchy and pirate. Yet that use of tyke, which could of course simply be a phonetic for the local enunciation of ‘take’, introduces the notion of someone vulnerable and/or immature. Is the condemned one addressing a crowd of faithful dependents, and simultaneously encouraging them to turn away from despair, while also renouncing the authority who is doing the hanging as someone small (immature) of heart?  

There is little confirmation of a position or authority of any kind in Bunratty, despite a definite presence of character, plot, setting. These elements swirl by; the inconsistent spellings, phonetics and all the anachronisms spur you to make your own internal logic. There is meaning here, but even that is not enough to be confident of what is truly going on. As Hose says in ‘Lamb Chantey.’: ‘How do you pronounce Eurydice?’ Unless you hear him read it (and even then, only if he reads it the same every time) you will never know if you are hearing it in your head the way he wrote it, or the way it exists on the page.

Likewise, his casual, continual use of shorthand and abbreviations (‘C14th’, for example) dramatically alters the receptive mode of the reader in several ways. First, it sufficiently loosens the expectation about rules of writing, so that spellings which would otherwise be read as typos are instead more readily accepted as windows into a multiplicity of meaning, or allusions back to other eras, such as when Hose (mis)spells ‘childe’. It also roughens the transposition of text, from the page to words in the mind. What is the correct sound-image to associate with ‘C14th’? To an uninitiate, hearing the letters and numbers read out as they are written would be meaningless, though any literate listener would instantly understand if the reader were to speak it less literally (and in the mode typical of academics in the field). Is this then just shorthand? The author not bothering to write out words when near enough really is good enough? Poetry that appears on the page in a form habitual to people growing up with autocorrect, becomes simultaneously highly contemporary while also harking back to early C20th journalism. The work is dashed off imprecisely, like an SMS reliant on the ability of digital technology to decode and make right any errors, yet it may be a very precise code that seeks to exclude those untrained in its deciphering (if not buoy those who are so trained). 

At other times there emerge exquisite lines that for all their strangeness remain greatly respectful of conventions of grammar, spelling, punctuation. Consider in ‘The flaming giblet’s guide to amorous vassalage.’, for example, when Hose writes: ‘Delaying infinitely the work that is to be done our distractions become our / histories.’ This is a line of pure sentence case (if you excuse the mild enjambment): no tortured syntax, no metaphors, similes puns or disruptions of spelling, no painterliness except the omission of a comma; yet for all its apparent plainness the outcome – a single sentence (complete with concluding period!), is rife with sensual delirium, shifts of rhythm, complexities of rhyme. It is brilliant and throwaway – a line that could only be in this one, precise form, and because of that fact appears effortless and seamless, like it emerged from the pen fully formed before the author gave it thought.

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