Cones by Andrew Pascoe
Bulky News Press, 2017
Slender Volume by Chris Brown
Bulky News Press, 2017
The Manifolds by Marty Hiatt
Bulky News Press, 2017
Words and phrases in Andrew Pacoe’s cones, emerge and float through the page’s whitespace like ‘vacuum packed clenches / listing downstream’. It seems that if you were to unfold this book, so that all the pages were arranged on the same plane, phrases would flow from their current position and create new combinations. Thus the physical barrier of the book itself seemingly restrains this collection from achieving formal synergy. In this way, cones makes us aware of how the physicalness of the book itself artificially restrains it’s content. This tension between content and form is emblematic of cones’s greater consideration for how the artificial restricts the natural.
Language itself embodies this tension, as it simultaneously allows for and restrains expression. Exemplifying this is the table that floats halfway down page 10:
By enforcing artificial unity on the six words, the amount of syntactic permutations that the table is cable of producing is capped. However, without this artificial unity, the reader would likely only produce one, linear reading of the words. Thus, as a result of the table, the reader is forced to pause and consider multiple interpretations. Paradoxically then, it is constraint that produces this multiplicity.
This collection goes on to consider the limits of this relationship between restraint and multiplicity. Towards the end of the collection, Chinese, English and Arabic phrases disperse across the page like ‘various acacias, hurtling … // thru wormholes’. This explosion of language continues until it reaches a black line that extends across the top of the last four pages. These ‘strewn vapours’ are unable to permeate across this barrier and instead gather together like ‘springs buffering in space’. The result is a ‘p a rt ia l pressure loss’ as language’s expressiveness is normalised when pressed against this barrier. Reading this collection thus causes one to consider where other arbitrary barriers are and how they work to normalise the periphery.
The poems in Chris Brown’s Slender Volume employ dissonant phonics, conflicting semantics, and ‘extended [metaphors] covered in barnacles’ (‘Popular Classics’, John Forbes) to create a dynamic reading experience that demands both alacrity and intensity. However, these poems are not made up of disparate parts simply left for the reader to assemble. Rather, when reading this collection, one receives an awareness of things happening without being able to intellectually determine exactly what these things are. It is this Ashberian evasiveness of subject matter that unites the collection’s aesthetic disparity: movement and surface tension are the ‘point’ of the poems. The success of this collection is then that it maintains its fluidity whilst also achieving unity.
An awareness of temporality allows for this balance. The second poem ‘City circle delay’ exemplifies this. Here, the poem transcribes the poet’s subjectivity whilst trapped on a bus in a Sydney traffic jam. The forced physical sedentariness (‘Find a seat (perforce) and B R E A T H E’) causes the poet’s mind to wander as it firstly considers and then creates the surrounding cityscape: ‘Down Broadway shows / whole buildings in yellow flour’. In this state, thoughts simultaneously occur and disappear without any value judgement attached to them: ‘the beach a thought and traffic a thought …’. The denouement of this journey occurs when the:
‘…street splits cheek firm against glass lies the looming self-important face of a city.’
The poet’s own reflection and a reflection of the city are unified in this syntactic amalgamation. In this way, considerations for how we read this text; how we move about a city; and how we consider our own thoughts all collapse into a ‘tree blossom drift’.
In Hiatt’s previous collection, Hardline, the poet arranges abstracted phrases sequentially. This forces the reader to make synaptic inference between each line. The sensation created is an ‘ongoing halting’ of phrases layered on top of one another. This causes meaning to ‘appear to be approaching.’ Although these phrases are arranged episodically, insistent refrains create a sense of volume like a ‘swarming springtime tombstone chitchat’. In his latest collection, The Manifolds, the poet interrogates and expands the possibilities of this poetic form, by allowing it to embody a book-length poem.
Kant describes synthesis as rationalising what is manifold into a single cognition. In mathematical terms, a manifold is a three-dimensional space that can be imagined as a flat surface. If something is ‘manifold’ it has many or varied parts, forms, and features. In this collection, Hiatt shows that Poetry is a mode of thought capable of combining and expressing this multifarious concept.
The centripetal force binding this kaleidoscopic form is the poet’s own subjectivity: this collection is ‘not interested in your narcism… only [its] own’. ‘Narcissism’ in this instance does more than signpost a wry self-awareness for how intensely solipsistic this poem is: it is emblematic of the contradictions and ironies that this ‘rotoscoped diagram’ of subjectivity reveals. For instance, the assertion that you are ‘more than just a cog in a wheel’ only leads to the circular realisation that ‘im a cog in a wheel that says its more than just a cog in a wheel.’ In this feedback loop of poetic consciousness, internal awareness and external reality layer on top of one another and form an irreconcilable dichotomy.
This dichotomy exemplifies cognitive dissonance. Investigating this dissonance moves the collection from being enigmatically confessional to politically sensitive. One option for reconciling the tension is to ‘force yourself’ into ‘going to many personal and business trainings’. Although this will please the ‘big beleaguered american arsehole’ it likely won’t align with an ‘innate sense of superiority’. However, the necessity of ‘tryna make up a living’ will force compliance with the ‘amazing enemy’. This in turn results in ‘buying your inability … so variously’ that you become ‘powerless’ and ‘wholly abstract’.
Black humour dignifies this typically millennial paranoia. Like finding ‘a flash of joy’ amongst ‘a slag heap’, this collection consoles those caught in this state with the empathetic assertion that there is no way to escape.