The Sun Behind the Sun, Tom Sharp
Illustration – Tal Brosh Design – The Beautiful Meme
Considering the colour blue
The Sun Behind the Sun explores experience and love. Love is held in our second heart, behind the ‘dull-beat, dull brown meat’ of the innocent physical organ. These abstract second hearts ‘glitter blue’ and contain multitudes.
Studies on Homer and the Homeric Age is a good place to start when considering blue. In it, William Gladstone (yes, that Gladstone) posited that the Ancient Greeks could not perceive the colour. Homer’s description of ‘the wine-dark sea’ is the most famous example of this collective blindness. The theory is that blue was one of the last colours that humanity understood, so is intrinsically linked with language, labelling and culture.
Fittingly, this flesh-coloured pamphlet hides an aquamarine flysheet. In the title poem Tom Sharp describes the blueness of the hidden heart with a mesmerising stream of contradictory and complementary images:
Mirror blue, Plath’s gas-jet blue,
a coffin-cut teddy-boy suit blue,
chipped winter-lips and vertigo blue.
A pre-ruled blue. [ ... ]
These lines start on the wrong foot, then land a memento mori on the chin with 'Plath's gas-jet blue'. This leads into another complex funerary image (‘coffin-cut’), followed by the corpse lips and reeling unknowable nature of 'vertigo', before the even-handed parallel lines of the copybook recall both school days and the sharp ‘teddy-boy’ suit two lines before.
Then things get interesting.
[ ... ] A horse-dick blue.
An unclouded, tiddlywink, bar-sign blue,
a cheese-vein and blue-tit blue.
The startling ‘horse-dick’ pirouettes into the Stilton and bird-breast. It’s a sort of abject sleight of hand that leaves me ill-prepared for elephant headed Ganesha swinging into view in the next line: ‘A Ganesha blue, ozone blue, crow blue’. The whole stanza feels like a verbal Rorschach test.
After Gladstone, a man called Lazarus Geiger scoured Icelandic, Hindu, Chinese, Arabic and Hebrew texts for blues and found none. How did the ancients see the sky? Most likely as a shade of green.
The collapsing chain of blueness in The Sun Behind the Sun disintegrates into even finer descriptions of glimmering emotions, like ‘a clump of telescoped stars’ and ‘light-smashed autumn water’. Blue becomes less a colour and more a state of mind, the universe understanding itself.
We’re not sure what colour dark matter is, but it’s probably blue.
Donal Ó Callanáin
We hate poetry that has a palpable design upon us — and if we do not agree, seems to put its hand in its breeches pocket. Poetry should be great and unobtrusive, a thing which enters into one's soul, and does not startle or amaze with itself, but with its subject. –
––John Keats, Letter to John Hamilton Reynolds (February 3, 1818)
It is not the poems that have a palpable design here so much as the designer. Much artistry has gone into the publication. Both cover and inside text is set in gold (‘The sun behind the sun’). The good paper is a bright off-white with perhaps deliberate show-through, the end papers bright blue (‘our second hearts they glitter blue’).
The huge title for each poem is presented as a design, often on the opposite page to the poem; perhaps with duplicated words faded in behind the main lettering (the sun behind the sun). The titles are, one could argue, a kind of visual poem.
And there are sometimes drawings – aspects of the poem picked out and illustrated, also in gold.
No page numbers and no contents page. Easy to miss the poet’s name tucked away at the bottom of what might be a half-title sheet (but there is no title page).
Poems are placed variously on the spreads – ‘What It Is To Discover A New Mind’, on a left-hand page has no margin at all and so begins right at the edge of the paper. Curious.
Some of the poems struck me as strikingly compelling. I found the illustrative design, however, distracting. The first line of the opening piece is ‘I spit this poem onto your palm’ – lovely rhythm in that arresting end-stopped statement. The drawing of a mouth with multiple tongues, however, seems to me to reduce the potency of the text.
Should poems be illustrated or not? It’s a bit like the argument between radio and television. With radio, your imagination fills in all the detail. On TV or film, they fill the detail in for you. When it comes to poems, I prefer radio.
Here, I specially liked ‘Time of Death’, ‘The Detective’ and ‘She Has A Dance I Cannot See’. In the last of these, her dance may be like ‘a star / not quite coal red, not quite glass blue, / not quite not there’. The author’s name on the first page is not quite not there. There is good writing here; and the design may attract eyes not normally drawn to poems.