Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

Run by HappenStance Press

From the wonderfully named ‘Experimental Strategies workshop’ (it sounds like some kind of secret laboratory), comes a pamphlet of poems mostly:

 

generated from pre-existing texts of one sort or another, and by a variety of means: cut-ups, found texts, collage, treated texts, systematic-chance procedures, lists, clichés and common expressions.

 

It's a 28-page publication containing one poem each by 13 writers plus a preface by Robert Vas Dias which talks about the genesis of the poems and the principles underlying their experimental method of construction. If you’re unfamiliar with this sort of thing, you might wonder what emerges from these procedures—but, as the preface reminds us, poetry doesn’t lie in the origin of words, but in how they are placed. I especially liked Ian Purser’s ‘Danger’, sourced from a sign manufacturer’s catalogue, but re-punctuated:

 

DANGER TEST

 

Area danger.

Hot danger.

Men working.

 

Overhead, danger.

Stop. Look.

Listen—danger. Deep.

 

Excavations danger.

Men. Working.

Below, danger deep.

 

Water danger falling.

Objects. Danger.

Danger. Danger.

 

 

Although I did enjoy the poems in themselves, I found myself most interested in the ‘stratagems’; that is to say, the sources, such as that quoted above, and formulas, where supplied, which led to the poem’s creation. For example, following ‘Enigma Variations’ by Kathy Wrightson, here is the note on method:

 

Source: Collins English Dictionary. Method: From an explanation of list poems, I took the word strophe and looked up the definition in said dictionary. I chose the most obscure definition, which did not contain the original word, and used that for the first line of the poem. I then chose a word from that line without too much thought, and applied the same process. And so on.

 

To some extent, the sources and the process are as much ‘the poem’ as the poem itself, and I would have liked to see more space dedicated to this angle. Nonetheless, a thought-provoking, successful pamphlet. Be brave. Experiment.

 

Chris Beaton