The Knives Forks and Spoons Press, 2012   £5.00

Note: Sphinx only reviews single author pamphlets, each of which is considered by three reviewers. However, we have made a special exception in this case (as a one-off) because it seemed fun to have a dual-authorship dual-reviewed (the two reviewer-poets are well-versed in collaborative authorship).


Ways Of Describing Cuts:
jointly reviewed by Jon Stone and Kirsten Irving

Each page in this collaborative pamphlet is an exchange between top and bottom, and although I don’t mean that in the S&M sense, there's a strong sense of the voices playfully resisting each other, like ferromagnetic materials of the same polarity—words as charged filings. Part of that, of course, is a result of the similarity in style: lines of variegated length (tending towards the very short) moving through disparate visual ideas at the speed of a film reel.

Lord knows we love collaboration, and you get a real sense of the back and forth, of the process, rather than a static product. The deliberate omission of titles, smooth transition between the two writers and sporadic punctuation all contribute to this effect. I also like the idea of not knowing whether this is actually a collection at all. It could be one long poem.

I can’t find any information about the two authors, even on the KFS website. The most I can find is a mention of their full names in the copyright notice. I do quite like the way their contributions aren’t attributed and sort-of run into one another, though I suspect, having read some of Fowler’s work before, that his are the pieces at the top half of each page.

I get the impression it’s a deliberate design decision across some small presses to avoid ‘over-introducing’ the poetry and poets, which sometimes means not introducing them at all. There’s a couple of quotes on the back that do the job of the blurb though, so in this case, the reader’s adequately primed. While we’re on design, I do think it was a mistake to attempt a mock spine on a saddle-stitched pamphlet; it means the writing on the ‘spine’ is actually split between the front and the back covers.

Agree about the spine. I can see the benefit of letting the poetry talk, rather than allow it to be coloured by details of the poet’s own backstory, but not everybody has the luxury of a website, and pamphlets, as well as being pieces of art, are to some extent promotional tools for writers. Poets in particular need all the artistic exposure they can get.

But to move on from the physical design element, there’s a real pleasure in soft rhyming and texture in these poems. In one block, we have “rubber . . . ribs . . . gobble . . . squib”. I’m not as familiar with Kelly’s performance style, but I know Fowler is fond of very sonic poetry. Much more subtle and engaging than the harder rhymes and rhythms of many slam poets.

One poem starts:

did you say trunked trees?
I’ve misheard again

The rhyming you’re talking about seems to me to be related to this theme (albeit a subdued theme) of mishearing. Because this is poetry, the poets aren’t listening to the sense of each other’s words but the sound of them. So each exchange has elements of a distorted echo of what came before it. Sometimes the echo agreeably repeats or re-emphasises or rhymes, but just as frequently it opposes, ducks, goes off on a tangent. Someone who didn't enjoy dissonance would probably find the pamphlet frustrating—the poems are extremely fragmented, and the music's primarily one of discordance.

Fragmented, yes, but if you abandon trying to wring out a simple narrative or straightforward description, there’s a nice splash of humour in here, which helps to ease readers into this style. Yes, some might be irritated by the whimsy and seeming non-sequiturs of

bally balloon
bally bear
swim my lady poet
swim vegetable Octopi (sic)

but there’s enjoyment in the language, and the combinations of shapes, even if clear meaning's elusive. This free play also offers a good contrast to the darker, clipped fragments of

but together we
are neatly ready
kill them all.

Perhaps that’s not so much contrast, though, as part of the jostling between the two voices. To an extent, they’re trying to send each other up, undermine each other.  think it’s all about the liveliness of the battle, rather than specific tones or synchronisations. It’s more versus pamphlet than collaboration, more match than match-up, and therein lies its distinct character.