Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

Run by HappenStance Press

Crystal Pamphlets, Crystal Clear Creators, 2012     £4.00
Sphinx six striper

Reviewed by Gina Wilson, George Simmers and Clare Best

 

Gina Wilson:
Charles G Lauder’s pamphlet, Bleeds, is a full-scale trek through childhood, young adulthood, relationship, parenthood, sickness, age, death. Lauder neither turns from life’s hardships and horrors, nor does he mince words, which makes it a challenging read.

Some of the poems jump from the page, energised by lists of details delivered with panache to achieve just the desired effect:

He would have lived anywhere with her   cobble-stoned
Back Bay condo   rat-infested student ghetto   bank
of the River Charles   sheltered in doughnut boxes
and newspapers 
....
(‘Scheherazade Arrives in Boston’)

Others, unduly burdened, survive less well.

Elsewhere, a spare subtlety catches the acute self-consciouness of a boy, collecting sanitary supplies for his mother and sisters:

down an aisle
I don’t belong in

is a package to collect
quickly and quietly
[ . . . ]
don’t look at me
or say a word
when you take my money
....
(‘Touchable’)

And a fitting softness is found in his description of breasts in ‘The Weasels’:

When he last knew them
they cradled his head   their heartbeat
like a bass drum sounding the depths
of sleep   nothing could reach him
as long as they stood guard.

But the lasting impression left by this collection that tackles grief and loss (‘Hands Held’, ‘Pieta’), terror and helplessness (‘Touchable lll’, ‘Kissed’) is of Lauder’s passionate, untempered engagement with life’s rawness and pain. I was glad of the hopeful humour (as well as pathos) of the closing lines of his final poem, 'Husks':

Before I shed this husk
....
....I must live
....
............one day longer than them

enduring like a Greek god

....
....whose cock
....
............can touch the sky

& move the clouds about.

 

 

George Simmers:
One of the strongest poems in this book is ‘Against the Black Mud Tide’. Its starting point is a letter from Freud to Jung, urging him “never to abandon the sexual theory”, and the poem riffs inventively on the theme of sexual anxiety for four stanzas:

Don’t let my penis
....
....be an amulet in a pouch
....
............about the neck warding off dybbuks

of anxiety and envy  my testicles
....
....served up as the aphrodisiac last course
....
............of a candlelit supper for the impotent

This poem shows Charles Lauder’s strengths and weaknesses. There is a wild extrovert excess of imagery, and a willingness to go into the less politely mentionable areas of life (as the pamphlet's title hints, menstruation is a favourite theme). On the other hand, while the poem has an idea, it repeats it but doesn’t really develop it. The details pile up, but they don’t lead anywhere, and by the end we have certainly learned nothing about Freud or Jung, or about anything except Mr Lauder’s inventiveness. It’s the kind of poem that might go down well at a reading, but paper reveals its limitations.

The poems are in free verse, and most have no punctuation except for a final full stop. Extra spaces between words indicate a pause, and sometimes line-endings do the same, but sometimes they do not. Technically, Lauder does not set himself any difficult challenges. Often it is hard to see why a poem has been set out in lines at all: ‘Black Dutch’ has a strong idea, but would be as effective printed as conventional prose.

Sometimes the poet doesn’t seem quite aware of the effect he is creating. ‘Husks’ starts from the promising premise of past identities that have been outgrown, but ends with the heroic lines:


Before I shed this husk
....
....I must live
....
............one day longer than them

enduring like a Greek god

....
....whose cock
....
............can touch the sky

& move the clouds about.

Perhaps it’s me, but—I can’t read this without giggling.

 


Clare Best:

I’ve read this pamphlet many times. Each time, the route through the labyrinth has made slightly more sense, or acquired a different intensity of sense.

After the second or third read, I felt as though the poet had drawn a map in my heart. There’s a flow between and around and into the individual poems, not so much of blood but of a particular and haunting energy.


In the most involving poems (to my mind, these are ‘Double Vision’, ‘Black Dutch’, ‘Alice and Carl’, ‘Kissed’, and the sequence of ‘Touchable’ poems dispersed throughout the collection) I could actually feel my own body and consciousness tense up as pressure increased through the lines, building until it was almost painful. These were the pieces I had to return to immediately, to find out if the feelings communicated were the same or different on repeated readings.


This curiosity about repeated effect drove my experience of the collection. Later I was also curious about how the cumulative physical effect was produced or enhanced in the line, on the page, and in the techniques underpinning the work. The scarcity of punctuation has something powerful to add; so does unpredictable patterning of enjambment; so too do elements of form and layout, although I think the poems that are laid out more simply (eg the short lines and ragged couplets or uneven stanzas of the ‘Touchable’ poems) are on the whole more successful than the obviously shaped poems, such as ‘69’ and ‘Against the Black Mud Tide’. The latter seem quite self-conscious—I find their shapes distract from, rather than enhance, the poems.


There’s a magnificent fullness in some of the texts. In ‘Double Vision’ the accumulation of pressure, of feeling, is pronounced. This is partly the result of—yes—the flow produced by sparse punctuation and enjambment. But more than that, I was acutely aware of another potent technique—the extended and mildly fractured, or almost fractured, syntax that just lets one phrase or sentence merge, or appear to fall, into another, so you’re never quite sure whether a sentence has been completed or not, whether you’re still waiting for its culmination as the stanza or poem concludes. Sometimes I felt I was waiting for the sentence to make sense, and that became the source of the pressure, and some of the power. Here are the final lines of ‘Double Vision’:


....
............Blamed for planes
that continued to fall from the sky
taking down markets houses and towers
he was made to wear an eye patch
leave the world to its darkness   voices raised
in football chants   heads bowed in prayer
to be heard over the roar of the jet engine.

His mother then later girlfriends and wives

learned to live with unbreakables.