This is a nice green book. And there are lots of animals
in it. They can be pretty nightmarish. Watch this:
is gasping for air; she's going catatonic
bargain bin of a winter, she's scared of pigeons.
I own a
shoddy collection of pigeon skeletons...
... I picked
cockroaches out of a famous haircut
while a fat
lady screamed in my ears.
[from ''Sellout Jacket' (Royal Albert
I really admire Goransson's poetry: it's daring; it has cartoonish pizzazz;
and it glitters with imagination. But it's not just surface bling, though
almost every image is arresting (or would be if it didn't pile into the next
with little regard for how good it was). The book opens with 'The Seminal
Union of Carvers':
the best conspiracy theories for my own
I've saved my
own sweat for the trial, and the
lingering nights I spend in furious luxury.
my best thought for the last laugh of the
and my worst
thought for seconds after.
examined the bruise on your thigh and it looks
like your pet.
become a riddle and the answer is grass.
always a riddle, but now it's doused in
There's structure too: 'Pigs' is one trope, and in particular a circus of them,
as in 'Revulsion as an Antidote to Experimental Poetry' (great title):
was the colour of my eyes when I wrote
a poem called
'The diary of a Pig Circus' about the
of my silhouette.
I guess 'Green' is a trope too then, if you can count the cover as a trope (I
read somewhere that the cover is blue, but my copy's definitely green - the jury's out on this trope). There are
pigs in 'We will use Clothes-Hangers next time' and in other poems too, but
in case you feel this is in danger of tipping over into 'Pig-watch' I'll just
quote one more:
the pig circus to include both the
Cowboys with their religious machines
and the Queen
Girl with her hundreds of strays
through the streets at night. I'm erasing the
parts in which I plan to kill Elsie's new
How I plan to beat his face in, how I plan
to feed him
ten pounds of his own flesh. Instead the
will be full of political satire. We'll have a
[from 'The New Exhaustion']
But Pigs and Green are not the only structural devices employed here. The poems segue into one another
syntactically; themes and words overlap; images reappear and beat you into
submission. As a result things that initially shock become commonplace,
whether kooky thought-sketches or violent ideas. I guess this is where
political overtones might come in, but I think this book's more subtle than
that. If you see something often enough, or are told it's inevitable, however
wrong or crazy it may seem to start with eventually you accept it as a part
of everyday life. Given the often violent content this makes the book an
I was born in
an evacuation drill, but that's no excuse.
I want my own
mauled place in the sun, but my eyes
and the claptraps I arrive in are always
girls fall off their bicycles. The minstrel
sound enough like a lynching and the
squeals and bangs with pigs.
[from 'I Will Carve like You're on Fire']
Over the length of the book the repetition of the horrific, interspersed with
faux-comforting passages more superficially whimsical, results in the reader
feeling that he or she becomes tacitly complicit in the inventive nastiness
of the narration simply by fulfilling their part of the reader-writer
bargain, i.e. imaginatively meeting the author on common territory (I'm sure
the author's a perfectly decent man, before anyone gets the hump).
And what's interesting about A new quarantine will take my place is that this subliminal agreement is displaced
from its traditional centrality in lyrical communication, that of 'I feel the
writer is suggesting this persuasively so I empathise: Job done. End of
story: yes I do sympathise with
this universal message personally delivered'. Instead, here the reader is
forced to treat both the writer and his/her own thoughts with suspicion: subliminal communication, a sensed
of shared consciousness of some poetically offered 'experience' is not an
unequivocally good or honest thing or a goal in itself. Indeed, there is a suggestion that it
is potentially dangerous, which of course it is. Political slogans and
advertising campaigns aren't necessarily good and they play to prejudices and instincts. Why should
poetry be any different when it is operating with the same tool-kit?
The unreliable narrator is of course a common enough device. But I think this
book deals with something else: the unreliable narratee. It plays with the
reader's expectations, not just of the writer but of themselves:
witch-hunt metaphor doesn't work unless the reader
experienced transcendence. The fish bait is rotting
swimming pool. The starvation exercises don't
bourbon. The charlatan class cannot
without a more stupored mythology than
[from 'Obscenity can be a form of Asceticism']
As a reader you want, because of the power relationship inherent in being
'the reader' not 'the writer', to live up to the ostensibly more powerful
party's expectations, however apparently terrible the things the writer is
saying, condoning, and describing himself as doing and enjoying. It's this
'desire-to-please/ respond appropriately' relationship between reader and
writer that is highlighted by Goransson as a responsibility not to be taken
lightly by either party (unless of course it is done, as here, for effect).
In other words, when reading this book in public, I often found myself
laughing, or enjoying the dexterity with which an outrageous image or a
transition is handled, then catching my breath and thinking something along
the lines of 'Fuck: Shouldn't have thought that. I hope no-one in this quirky
but essentially middle-class cafˇ is scrutinizing me too closely or I'll wind
up on Crime-watch.'
So if you're at all interested in what's going on in poetry now, what it can
do and what it might do, this book really is pretty much necessary
(especially if you're British and always saying 'I don't know much about
contemporary American poetry, except Sylvia Plath and one poem by Frank
O'Hara - now was he a beat or New York(?) - and they're dead; I wish I'd read
more but where to start... etc.').
And on the subject of being British, is it just me or are there too few
writers of Goransson's age (he's 34) and under working this side of the pond,
with such imagination and range, who are not afraid to experiment, or who
would find it acceptable to appear in public or print without a monogrammed
lyric 'I' tied round their neck? Off the top of my head I can think of Chris
McCabe and Luke Kennard; I think we need a few more. So come on: join
Johannes Goransson. Maybe he'll be watching. Or is that just exactly what he
wants me to say (exit stroking white cat, chuckling)...
© Nathan Thompson 2008