An Astonishing Contradiction

Streak Artefacts, Tom Jenks (deptpress)

There's a long tradition now of writing which attempts to deal with the issue of 'information overload', often by 'snap-shotting' and integrating different forms of language, of subject-material and variety of discourse. Juxtaposition and collage are features long associated with the visual media, particularly film - though there are precedents within painting - and these have a long history of acceptance within popular culture through a wide media dissemination. Writing, and particularly poetry which adopts these methods, has had a tougher time finding acceptance, particularly perhaps, in the British Isles, though there have been regular 'outbreaks' by surrealistically-influenced poets when things get really dull and mediocre. Given the fractured nature of current poetry publishing, and one supposes, its audiences, there still seems little engagement between different groups and tendencies, though attempts have been made to break down these barriers or at least stimulate some useful discussion. Perhaps this is just 'the way things are' and we should all stop worrying about it and just get on with producing the work. Tom Jenks is a poet very much in the 'experimental camp', yet his work has an immediate attractiveness which I can't see why anyone would resist, never mind want to.

Streak Artefacts is a compilation of 100 10-line poems. Each poem is filled with a variety of reference, from 'all walks of life' and combines a quick-witted connection with the bizarre and the beautiful - one line will take your breath away and the next will have you creased up in mirth, at which point you read something which, due to its play on language will remain puzzling, even when you acknowledge the linguistic trick that's being played on you. These poems are enjoyable and fun to read but they come loaded with intent:


           I would have done the whole thing freestyle but Maureen gave me warp potion

           shrapnel wound from Hollyoaks friction burn from Ninja Warrior

           back then wearing rollneck sweaters whilst inventing English folk

           at the free concert rain in a moleskin pocket

           jazz: how a monkey is when you looked at it

           as when a member of Ginger Baker's Airforce

           making a montage of winter trees           [ a gatefold sleeve

           a drawing of a termite mound, a sculpted hive

           a memoir abbreviated [Duckworth Lewis]:

           How I Poached an Egg for Mao Tse Tung

You could, if you felt the need or the stimulation (there's always plenty of stimulation in a Jenks poem) spend some time on working with these lines and 'reading' a variety of meanings into the disconnections. You can guess at the origins and use these 'unfinished texts' as a way of generating your own thoughts and possibly, writings. Or, in less 'reflective' mood, you may simply choose to push on and read through these scrambled non-narratives at a pace. Both strategies are valid and neither is discounted. I find these poems - depending on my mood, perhaps - to be both slowed-down and speeded-up, which seems an astonishing contradiction until you start to take part in the game. And I recommend that you do because Jenks is highly intelligent, great fun, provocative and endlessly stimulating. What more could you ask for? Or, as Jenks himself puts it (from '18') 'when it is rain it is not rain but a ripple in the perceptual field'. The cover artwork is appropriate and splendid.

     Steve Spence 2014