Knives Forks And Spoons Press, 2013 £5.00
Reviewed by Clare Best, D A Prince and Claire Crowther
Be sure to read this pamphlet in a restful place. The words and the poems themselves make so much noise that you need peace and quiet in order to be able to focus on what Loydell is doing.
He has tuned his ear (or perhaps his “covering of fine hairs”) to the Latinate, inflated, adjective-rich, clichéd jargon of contemporary techno-babble and he has threaded this with his own tenderly subversive take on life. The combinations are worked with craft and skill, so that I was often seduced into thinking at the opening of a poem — Ah, this one will make sense, this one will give me some insight into what’s going on. Then, once again, Loydell took me by the hand, down the path that leads in circles, round the bend, up the wall, out onto the busy bypass.
Some of the later poems in the second section, entitled ‘Tribal Enticement’ (or is it ‘Radial Songbook’ — contents page and pamphlet pages differ), take the form of playful lists of word-combinations or phrases, which at first sight seem to have been generated randomly by the kinds of systems parodied in the earlier poems. In fact, the odd progressions in these lists create an effect of trapped sense or captive verbal intelligence desperately trying to break through. I found them strangely moving.
My experience of this collection as a whole can be summed up in the six lines of ‘Route, Network, Flow’:
In theory, a flow network is a directed
optimal lane-based evacuation route.
Traffic flows proactively onto multiple paths,
colours display the severity of firewalls in place.
The paradox is on a different machine
where blinds overlook the sea.
Even absorbed in relaxing surroundings, Leading Edge Control Technology is a scary, deafening and disorientating read. You may need to sink into a warm bath when you finish it.
D A Prince:
The publisher’s blurb tells us that Loydell “finds music in the most mundane parts of everyday language available to us”, and that these are “strange, complex tests whose exact meaning is hard to pin down”. Let’s take those two claims as a starting point in reading this, his latest pamphlet.
Loydell is a prolific left-field poet, founder-editor of Stride magazine (1982), and compiler of several anthologies. He has grouped the fifteen poems in this collection in two sections, of which ‘Leading Edge Control Technology’ is the longer, with ten poems. Each of these poems has a title made up of three words – ‘Tracing, Projection, Survey’, ‘Transfer, Codify, Analyse’ (I have chosen these at random). There is no common form; some are in couplets, others in longer stanzas of equal length. This gives them a pleasing neatness on the page.
One stanza, from ‘Frame, Scale, Select’, gives an indication of the style:
Now you can move, size, and rotate;
shift-drag layer handle, package preflight
map surrounds, frames and graticules,
and transform aspects of perceived reality.
Try to select static as a continuous buffer.
I’m not convinced that “music” is the right description for this, nor does “everyday language” accurately convey what we encounter: “graticules”, “graphical parameter estimation”, “unaliased spatial trace interpolation”. Yes, Google helps, one phrase at a time, but this feels like translating a foreign language word by word, with the meaning becoming ever more elusive. For me it’s not the ‘exact’ meaning that is hard to pin down, but any meaning beyond an intermittent glimmer.
Still, there’s the second sequence: ‘Radial Songbook’. This is a stanza from ‘Prayer Rug Exorcism’, the longest poem in the pamphlet:
commensurate addition ceremonial aunt
assonant compression attitude cult
bowstring combustible bubble burlap
The title page has a quotation from David Harsent’s recent translation of Yannis Ritsos’ poems:
Look, who can say what these things mean?
They make patterns in our lives and all I know
Is not knowing helps, but I couldn’t tell you why.
So perhaps my ignorance is not so shaming after all, but simply a part of the everyday human condition. It’s a small comfort.
It’s worth paying attention to the epigraph of a poetry collection. This pamphlet quotes Yannis Ritsos (translated by David Harsent): “Look, who can say what these things mean?”
Meaning, especially in the sense of a poet taking the reader through to a new understanding of life by the last line, is not the point here. The first poem, ‘Hairy, Spiny, Naked’, starts with a disclaimer: “This is not a breathless account of brave new discoveries”. But the second verse makes a big claim: “Here is a vehicle for explaining light and illumination”. I take that to suggest Loydell foregrounds technique. The poem-reading process is part of a technical world, which provides much of the language of the pamphlet.
All ten titles in the first section have an identikit structure, three words divided by commas. The first poem has organic words, ‘Hairy, Spiny, Naked’. The rest have jargon words, many of them imperatives: ‘Transfer, Codify, Analyse’, for example. The effect is robotic and many lines read like quotes from manuals: “In theory, a flow network is a directed / optimal lane-based evacuation route.” But you also hear the voices of those working with such manuals: “Is there a way I can refresh the clips / so that they scale when dropped?”
This is a world of work and the last few poems demonstrate a poet working. ‘Prayer Rug Exorcism’ is a pattern of three line stanzas composed of mostly compound words beginning with a, b, c and d. The words are grouped in unexpected couples and demand to be looked at just for themselves in their new settings:
bedstraw commensurate crankcase consortium
deliberate ascension congestive crossover
arduous bedtime commando child
You may try to make a narrative out of this (and that’s fun so I shall return to these poems and enjoy failing at it) but the poems, like life, are strong enough to resist you. The final poem ‘The Greenhouse in Winter’ is also made of three line stanzas of coupled words, but here a human persona creeps in via the evocative title and out through the last line, “wanting to kiss your neck”. You can make a little love lyric out of some lines in this poem but the power of Leading Edge Control Technology is its insistence that, one way or another, we spend our lives working. Even poets.