ABBODIES*, nicky melville
Sad Press, 2017 £6.00
Singing along with the corpses
If you happen to live in Scotland where a’body is everybody (as in we’re a’ in the same boat), the Abbodies of the title is no mystery. But it’s also a chance to squeeze ABBA in.
As for me, I’m not always good at picking up popular music references. I was always in the wrong place at the wrong time. But even I can sing along with the chorus of ‘Knowing me, knowing you’. That earworm must have got everywhere — including (deliberately) into the rhythm base of this long poem.
There are other key references. The whole work is, according to the title page, a ‘part-homage to Néstor Perlongher’s Corpses, translated by Will Rowe, which has the refrain ‘there are corpses’ (I don’t know it).
Here, the recurring snatch (I wouldn’t call it a refrain) is ‘there is a body on the line’, an idea the poet plays with — sometimes cheekily, sometimes satirically, sometimes ominously.
But what caught my interest was the way I found myself hearing fragments of the text sung. ‘Knowing me, knowing you’ (which in places becomes ‘knowing me / knowing EU’ — joke) threads in and out. We’re into relationship catastrophe, political catastrophe; there’s a body on the recurring line — and it’s with that contraction (there’s and not there is) that I kept hearing those words, because that’s how they best fit the tune. When the poet brings in a line break (‘there is a body / on the line’) it’s even easier to sing.
Then ‘Winner Takes It All’ arrives, and I’m singing a different tune but — lo and behold — ‘a body on the line’ swings right along:
building me a fence
building them a wall
building me a home
thinking I’d be strong there
is a body on the line
So the recurring line sings compellingly, and the way ABBA tunes (and phrases) zoom in and out captured my attention. It was distracting — in a good way. I bet the poet doesn’t sing these lines in performance, but I was certainly singing, and periodically tapping my foot, when I was reading. Not done that before with po...
*The first B should be reversed, as in the branding of ABBA, but knowing me (knowing you) I can't find a way to do that on this website...