Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

Run by HappenStance Press

Constructions [Konstrukce], Joshua Calladine-JonesThe jacket is mainly grey, with a white band across the bottom fifth, in which author's name and collection title in translation appear in small black lower case letters towards the right of the band. The main title (constructions) appears just above, in the grey area, right justified, same size of small lowercase but  bright red. The grey area has a lighter grey beam, mimicking a spotlight that comes down from the left hand corner to the right, and opening out as it comes. So the title in red is inside the lighter grey 'spotlight'.

tall-lighthouse, 2021     £8.00

Non-standard and new

This pamphlet is very consciously playing with language, and at is at its best when the play fits the subject matter.

The first of its three sections, ‘Konstrukce / Constructions’, uses fragments from conversations with people whose first language isn’t English. The opening poem introduces a key idea, namely that ‘incorrect’ language sometimes gets through to us emotionally or intellectually in a way that standard language can’t:

It takes on two days to prepare
and you must taste each of them.
It’s like we can love each day,
it’s like open door, who wants
can come.
      [‘big’]

Section two, ‘Zkresleni / Distortions’, presents us with versions of canonical poems that have been translated back and forth between languages from the original. For me, ‘lament’ (from Shelley’s ‘Ozymandius’) is the most successful, because the original’s themes of time overturning human assertions (like ‘Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!’) and the life of art beyond the artist work so well with the new version’s distorted language:

Nothing. The land, huge and naked, extends a great distance.
     [‘lament’]

There are notes explaining the methods used, and I’m glad to see one of the rules is that word choices should be made ‘for the sake of style, poetics, and narrative continuity.’ Well absolutely. You can feel that style in delicious phrases like ‘stars falling, flies in a glass of milk’ in ‘psalm’ (a version of Wordsworth’s ‘I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud’).

I also very much enjoyed ‘beauty is truth, truth beauty’ surviving almost intact in the ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’ version, ‘pastoral’. The original poem is slightly, enjoyably, beyond my comprehension, so the elements of nonsense in this version work well for me as a reader, and the address halfway through to a ‘shape in the loft’ is an endearingly bathetic link back to something concrete I can recognise. I like how the ending undercuts Keats’ certainty:

Who said these words — beauty is truth, truth is beauty — that’s all?
Do they live in the world with everything they need?

Ramona Herdman