Friday, 25 January 2013
CBe 2013 2 / Andrew Elliott, Mortality Rate
Maybe three years ago Andrew Elliott sent me some poems in the post for CBe. I sent him a rejection email, probably the usual: small outfit, very few books per year, liked them but no.
One night last year, insomniac, wandering the living room in the early hours, I went looking for those poems and found them. That they’d survived was strange – I’m a thrower-away, not a hoarder; I feed the bin-men. But I did like them: they surprised me, they gave pleasures of a different kind from those that most poetry gives. I emailed him again, at around 5 a.m.: you know those poems you sent me two years ago, have you placed them yet?
(Publishers can change their minds? You bet they can. Minds do need changing now and then, to keep them flexible.)
Elliott has published two previous collections, both with Blackstaff. The Creationists (1989) has fine poems; there may even have been a prize, or something like, attached to it. Twenty years later, Lung Soup (2009), which is a wholly different fish: here are Germany and America and decadence in various guises and Amy and Sabrina and sentences that are so wrapped up in what they’re doing, and at the same time unwrapping, they don’t hear you say when, they go on pouring. Mortality Rate is in the same vein. As individual collections of poetry go, this is a big one: 150 pages, wide and tall. A few of the poems are in the downloadable extract on the website page; another is in the Hofmann book. They are just a soupçon.
I have no idea how this book is going to fare. Generally, if you write/publish a collection of poetry, what you’re putting out is a book of around 60 pages with poems that fit a B-format or demy page with hardly a turned-over line, and if it’s good of its kind it may get, god willing, an occasional good-of-its-kind review. I haven’t yet mentioned style, content, but here too there are invisible intergalactic forces pulling things towards a central zone labelled consensus: these are the things that get written about, these are the ways to do it, and if you sign up and pay for sixteen workshops we’ll help you. (Am I exaggerating? There are the mavericks and the outriders but on the whole I think not. Maybe I just read too much of the stuff. For work, you understand.) There are probably reasonable reasons (socio-linguistic ones?) for this. The poems can be wonderful. And if you want to do something different, to enter the room by a different door, you go online, or do performance, or go underground. But if you want to do something different but stick with the book and the printed line?
Liberties are taken in Mortality Rate but not, I think, self-indulgently: motifs recur, poems nod one to another, and they do, despite energetically working against this, cohere. Which is to say, perhaps, they are ‘well made’. In a sly way they are also very funny. Are there too many poems here? By which I mean, are too many of the poems doing essentially the same thing? No, because the tactics – improvisation, spinning out rather than in, including rather than supressing the mind’s jumps and leaps – require this width of the spine. And anyway, you don’t have to read them all in one go. Each time I go into into this book, I find a poem I want to pause at, share, read aloud. I don’t see that many is a problem.
I think some folk may find Mortality Rate irritating. I think some will enjoy it. I think some will sit on the fence. That is not a comfortable place to sit. I suggest you read it and jump down, one side or the other. You're allowed to change your mind later.