Kelly Malone Reviews Chris Price and Hera Lindsay Bird

By | 24 October 2016

Bird’s style is erudite and confessional, in so far as language permits. This writing is experimental in contrast to IIML graduates to date, although it still has semantic cohesion. The collection reads with energy. Bird seems to be off the cuff, but don’t be fooled, this is writing of a persona, no less than her Master Price. Bird also deliberately uses techniques as structural devices, such as the repetitive use of metaphors and similes in’ PAIN IMPERATIVES’; and she employs the longest ellipses ever, alongside capitalisation to visually pun on ‘NOT THE RIGHT SIZE’. Although the poems don’t need a great deal of close reading to be understood, a lack of heavy analysis is what makes the writing fresh. Yet, superficial it is not. There are so many lyrical lines ‘emitting / many slow blinks of the heart’. ‘CHILDREN ARE THE ORGASM OF THE WORLD’ is a prose-poem that logically (?!) paces itself through an argument, after introducing how the speaker came to find this phrase. The phrase is extended and the brilliance of Bird’s writing is clearly evident here:

You could even say sheep are the orgasm of lonely pastures, which are the orgasms of
modern farming practices which are the orgasms of the industrial revolution.

Certainly, one doesn’t look up from the page until that final period.

Bird’s layout of the page, her use of spaces within lines, wide margins, and not to mention her visual pun of buffering the page, all show that this is a poet who is not just using language as a tool, but an art form – LITERALLY. She scores the page, opting for layout and visual impact of repetition over grammatical evenness: ‘It’s so sad to been in love …’

The mention of other writers – an allusion to Billy Collins in the title ‘Undressing Emily Dickinson’, and Bird’s provocative ‘KEATS IS DEAD SO FUCK ME FROM BEHIND’, along with a response to Mary Oliver’s ‘Wild Geese’ – invite a wider reading. Homage is paid to Mark Leidner, Bernadette Mayer, and Chelsey Minnis, however, this can mean the poem rests its fullness on a reference. Certainly it’s a technique valued by Price, but that doesn’t mean it makes the poem work in every instance. Nevertheless, the direct address to Oliver’s ‘Wild Geese’ is a challenge to a particular poetic style and construction of reality. Bird, responding to Oliver’s invitation, ‘tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine’, unfurls some of her brilliance, ‘an asterisk blowing across the screen like tumbleweed’; and she aptly asks Mary, ‘How will we survive ourselves / And will this life ever answer?’ Certainly such extraordinary turns of phrase announces Bird’s ‘place / in the family of things’.

The depths of the emotional space in this work – taken to the realms of the ridiculous – are extraordinary to fathom and relish as a reader. There are some moments the high-brow set aren’t going to stomach in this collection, but these more titillating phrases are only first impressions. Bird’s writing deserves the attention, whatever you want to call this style – ‘Creative-experimental-non-fiction-narrative poetry’? Style and taxonomies aside, I don’t think Bird’s too worried anyway about the establishment. She’s taken on gender issues, sexuality, and the founder of IIML, Bill Manhire. But given VUP has published her, and the vast success her collection has already had, I don’t think she’s really shitting in her own nest: it’s more in jest, maybe revealing that other 25% of what this persona isn’t. Anyway, she can call the shots now. Mary Ruefle’s words resonate since Bird has shot to fame: ‘the life we enter is not the one we leave.’

SHE IS CAREFUL for the most part. I don’t want to stretch Bird on the ‘racks of the poetry industrial complex’ but there is a fine line between being offensive and pointing to perceived privilege. Some generalisations, such as ‘white men’, are a too-easy target. A little intersectionality could go a long way here but, Bird pleads, ‘Please don’t blame me for all the terrible thing [sic] I am about to say to you’. Actually, that’s it. The constant barrage of original imagery is painfully clever. Bird’s speaker knows all this language is describing the world once again and questions, why her to do it? And why not, for her work takes ‘us somewhere far beyond / the confines of this poem’.

SOMETHING THAT MIGHT BE MISSED IN BIRD’S WRITING IS THAT IT’S NOT ALWAYS THE LOUDEST VOICE that is the one that’s heard. All the bravado aside, this collection ain’t all cheap tricks, masturbation, lace, saucy sex and blasphemy sitting pretty on the surface of a quick read. There’s a lot more going on here even if the style of narrative, and immediacy of language might not leave one pondering the poems for too long: there’s a resonance in this writing that gets under your ‘snakeskin negligée’. Who says POEMS HAVE TO BE LABYRINTHS? I hope this Bird isn’t a comet, and she’s not going to have to pay for all the superstardom. I want ‘the world [to] describe itself again.’

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