Minding your Ps and Qs


Bring The Thing, David Berridge  (if p then q)  
Hoofs, Holly Pester  (if p then q)
NTST, Geof Huth  (if  p then q)
1000 Sonnets, Tim Atkins  (if p then q)
Thus &, Derek Henderson  (if p then q)
Ad Finitum, P.Inman  (if p then q)

if p then q books operate in an interesting corner of the poetry publishing spectrum, embracing a range of experimental and 'sound-based' writers of differing persuasions and distinctions. Some of the work here is less interesting 'on the page' than it might be performed or read out and this is a problem with print-based material but the risk of publishing is well worthwhile I think and iptq adds spice and variety to the overall picture. The books are well produced yet basic in their design - each cover has bold black type with a single-colour backdrop, ranging from pink to green - so there is an explicit avoidance of ornamentation in the presentation though they are not unattractive to the eye.

David Berridge's
Bring the Thing takes as its basic form 'the diary entry' - Day 1 - Day 100 - though the entries are not always what you might expect. There is a use of space, layout and typography which appears essential to the project and these poems are as visually appealing as they are witty and sometimes linguistically provocative, as in this stanza from 'Day 38':

     there is no certainty what the thing is that must be brought
     the thing is certainly what must be brought
     the thing can be distinguished from what is not the thing
     the thing has something more than that which it is not.

There is a fairly wide range of format and intention within Berridge's work, from the foregrounding of short, fractured narrative, through repetitive, sound-based poetry to open-field poetics, offering alternative reading options. Stimulating and mainly minimalist.

Holly Pester is a writer/performer whose work certainly benefits from being heard or performed. That said you can experience snatches of her 'sounded poems' from these visual approximations:

     Heave the bowels
     hop the bowels
     the rocket ship
     Haul away? Jonny?
     Heave her up and away we go
     heave away up whiskey
     Lift a cup
     a cup of men
     heave her up and away whup go
     a roaring leg
     a sprawling hinge
     heave her up and away whup go
     heave her up and away whup go
     blow yur hip off fee fi fo
          (from 'EFFORT NOISER -
A Space Shanty for  the Lunar Landings')

There's a long prose block of text entitled 'Harold Pinter's Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech' which combines playfulness with what I take to be serious political comment
and a number of similarly dense texts which combine humorous sound-based 'nonsense' with seemingly arbitrary snippets of language which despite everything retain a strange sense of 'belonging' - 'Don't go over the top / Don't talk into the wind / Fish / Stay in rough winds / Jean's moustache is longer than they thought ...'
(from 'S-C-R-U-F-F').

 Geof Huth's
NTST is compiled of what he terms 'pwoermds', a combination of 'poem', 'word' and 'worm', it would seem. This is writing which has defamiliar
 isation at its core yet remains playful, witty and at times hilariously funny. The entire text is made up of familiar words which are changed in some way, so, for example, for 'meaning' read 'meanign'. Each page is laid out as centred, has what appears to be treble spacing and is one word per line, though very occasionally two words will be 'run together' a la e. e. cummings. Sometimes you look at individual words and get flustered because the slight changes are disorienting and initially puzzling. Take this extract from 'International / Pwoermd Writing Month I':











Admittedly, these poems work best when read through quite quickly - even though the 'blocking' device makes this quite difficult at first - so you get an overall feel of the technique, and build up strategies to deal with the inbuilt resistance of Huth's method. These are very much 'process' poems and I wouldn't want them as a strict diet but then I wouldn't want to read any single poet ad nauseum, even those I'm most addicted to. Taken in small doses these poems are enjoyable and stimulating. I'm sure that hearing/seeing them performed would add something to the overall effect.

I'm not quite sure why Tim Atkins'
1,000 Sonnets is thus titled but the preface from John Ashbery gives some idea of the framing of these poems which are all 14-liners with various of the lines left out, leaving the reader to do a lot of the work. While this process has its pleasures I wasn't entirely convinced by this collection and prefer previous work by Atkins, notably that included in foil (etruscan books, 2000). Then again, there's a build-up over the body of this material which means the whole is greater than its parts and there are moments where curiosity over the merging of different forms of discourse proves stimulating and humorous:

     Sonnet 43
     A small quantity


     & city at


     trauma or not



     produces strong spectroscopic evidence

     for joy rides

     in stupendous coverings


     say, the upper right



Derek Henderson's Thus & follows in a tradition of writers working with Ted Berrigan's Sonnets sequence. Here Henderson uses a sort of 'arbitrary but strict' Oulipo technique to minimalise an already fairly minimal text and it works pretty well overall. Take this extract from XXXVIIII:

          tail's raggy
           bend                 'im
                  sure                 ass ails
         lays               jelly
     Eeeeeeeooooowww    La Vie
     Long toed                           Shit
     lickin'               partners
       Mating  Madame         whip
           Jimmy's     small       wiggles plum moans  Ladies shimmy

P. Inman's
Ad Finitum mixes a minimalist approach with an up-front presentation of his work as 'art-object' so the material appears naked at times and doesn't always stand up to scrutiny, at least for me. Like all of the writing in this selection of books, however, the whole is often greater than the parts and the jumps in perspective are sometimes intriguing:

cream loam beagle


all of Lake Superior color alike of acreage
arms left for brown



or a detail those several perspire of them
instead whatever lies outside
a typewriter blank of plain


as far as
I go lined across
her mind
to frost


laces peak pencil seabed

(from 'pluper')

A mixed bag then but it's good to see a publisher putting out material from the outer reaches of the poetry fringe and managing to build up an audience. iptq also publish excellent poetry from Tom Jenks and Philip Terry, both established writers whose work is well worth exploring.

   Steve Spence 2014