Dark Matter vol 6, Judi Sutherland & Jim Burns
The Black Light Engine Room Press, 2016
‘Dark Matter’ (volume 6) is unexpectedly small (A6) and an unexpected colour: yellow. And then there’s that title. I think science in poetry needs to be handled carefully: references can reach for connections and connotations that aren’t quite there.
But the words ‘dark matter’ sound good together. Tough words, with a real physical presence. Dark matter, the stuff or—more accurately—absence of stuff, is the opposite: undetectable, a hypothesis. But this pamphlet is solid, impressively dense: two poets represented by eight poems each.
The first thing you notice about Jim Burns’ poems is their shape. They are all strips five or six words wide and somewhere between twelve and twenty lines deep. This worried me at first, but I soon began to enjoy being led down the page. Here’s how Burns introduces ‘Jackson Pollock’:
I am sitting in a pub in Falmouth,
and my friend says, ‘What are you
looking at?’ and I reply, ‘I’m not
looking at anything but Jackson Pollock
is looking at me.’ And he is.
You don’t need a litany of forms if you can move your sentences along like this. The word ‘and’ does important work here, and elsewhere. I suspect there is a lot to say about ‘and’ in poetry; Jim Burns knows how to use it.
One of the best things about Judi Sutherland’s poems (and there are many good things) is the way in which they move. I love the variety of the two poems about cars, ‘Jessica asks’ and ‘Love Song for the A67’, in which the form, the idea and the movement of the vehicle all align perfectly, but for very different ends.
There’s a curious tension between what these poems say about movement, and what they do. ‘When I was a stranger’ and ‘Relocation’ both finish with statements that could be expressing regret, for example: ‘what was left behind was love and settlement.’ But this comes at the end of a poem which was clearly enjoying the way its own sentences rode along.
So, too, ‘Relocation’:
Life pitches our tent
in a different portion of the desert. We make it ours.
I can no longer tell you where my heart is.
I think the poem likes not knowing, and hasn’t really stopped.