An irregular diet

In a Form of Suspension
, Pansy Maurer-Alvarez (Corrupt Press)

It's strange how important it is to be in the right kind of receptive mood when reviewing books. The first time I skipped through this new collection by Pansy Maurer-Alvarez I felt nothing but impatient resistance. Okay, there's quality here even when you come across lines such as - 'flanked by the colours of unbridled passion', for example, from 'Helsinki' - which really won't do. Is it still possible to use that phrase 'unbridled passion' and get away with it, never mind make it work in a manner which is more than seriously 'tongue in cheek?' Yet on second reading I found the work far more interesting, even allowing for the pastiche re-working of symbolist high art lyricism. In fact I found this a refreshing change to much of the more 'prosaic' plain-sentence material I've been inundated with recently. Even that 'unbridled fashion' began to feel 'knowing' in a manner which injected something fresh into the phrase and the mix of genuine passion and 'up-front' high-art lyricism started to do its work. Take this short poem which I'll quote in full:


          the fragility of arias
          the pizzicato arrangements
          the vinyl electronic
          consider the vanished ballad hiding what we remembered
          the impeccable classical instruments
          a desirable torso and throat
          the tambourine's shrill shiver in a refrain
          the burst of a bell's sweeping gesture
          the rush of breath reinforcing a chorus
          my mouth sprouting words like
                        tassel      syntax       shellac
          don't you just love the sound
                         of the word shampoo?

The question at the end may seem arch or mannered but it works in the context of the poem, which harbours a sense of nostalgic luxury, aided by a real talent for sensuous lyric brevity, not an easy thing to pull off in the twenty first century. There are also some lovely unexpected lines - 'a rippled squirm as far as a slender trespass', for example, from 'All Your Past Fires' and 'Crumbling artefacts tremble in the aquarium of your voice chamber' ('Droplets') which just about avoid being 'over the top' in a clichˇd lyric sense because of their oddness and slight inappropriateness. Yes, I know the surrealists did this a long time ago and did it better but there's a mix of the genuinely erotic and the genuinely lyrical in these poems which avoids irony and yet also avoids the sort of slushy romanticism which I first took them to be. Her vocabulary is often unexpected and phrases which seem over-familiar manage to have a different 'ring' to them. Pansy Maurer-Alvarez is a seriously accomplished poet and it's easy on first appearance to miss this. I wouldn't want a regular diet of this kind of poetry - it's not really my cup of tea - but there's a delicacy about her work, allied to a counterpoint toughness which hits the mark. I'm still trying to make up my mind about Dylan Harris' cover art, a 'melty' image in yellow, orange and brown, which reminds me of a lot of work of his which I've seen before.

    © Steve Spence 2014