Steve Spence's first collection, A Curious Shipwreck, came to my attention for two reasons: it's shortlisted for the Forward First Collection award (what's it got?) and its title (oh no has he preempted my next idea?).
So I read it.
What's it got? Mayhem. A rolling stream of pirate activity, punk memorabilia, funny remarks on economics, playful references to Alice in Wonderland, great language, a strange coherence, huge references, and brilliant titles.
"When pirates can be recognised
by their beards alone, it's a sure
sign that they've reached cult
Yet for all this there is also a flatness to the book. I couldn't find a shape to the sequence, or a distinction between poems. There is, by the end of the book, an overwhelming world I'd been drawn into but one with no holes or mountains. I guess this is part of the intention: the overall shape mirrors the individual poems - an intense layering of ideas that asks the reader to draw in their own connections, and for this I loved reading it but for this I also was left adrift. I do like the peaks and troughs of emotional variation, or right angles of perception, and was left without.
So has he preempted my next idea? No, thankfully. Although there is a part of me that would love to have written in this style. I love the drawing together of disparate texts, the gaps that made me stop up short and recircuit my brain. But while I love reading that, it is not how my brain works as a writer. I need some narrative, a story or connections of some kind. This style of disorder is tantalisingly difficult. For my brain at least. And as for subject matter, again no. His range is far wider than I could manage or am aiming for. Wider in that it brings economic theory, music, fantasty and myth together. The wideness I want to achieve in my next project is historical breadth, in the first instance, geographical in the second. Which isn't exactly true for the poem I'm currently working on.
Because of this meshing of history/geography I'm working on different forms I've not yet mastered: first off The Sestina: which involves the repetition of six words (as end words in a particular order) throughout the poem. Coo blimey. My first attempt was to go for chaos, for disorder and juxtaposition of elements (less historical and more domestic with a spread of geography). Which didn't work at all, as I found myself slipping towards cohesion and sense halfway through. Maybe the end words were wrong. Maybe I have to reconcile myself to narrative sense from the outset.
I've changed one of the repeating words. I've sat back and asked
Mr Puppet what he'd do in the situation (it may be for him after all). I've turned back to Treasure Island and remembered what it was I loved about the book (the voices/language in particular: "lively men, but careful" was one phrase I've repeating to anyone who has the misfortune to be in conversation with me for the past fortnight). I've put away the first appalling draft and gone back to large sheets of blank paper to rediscover what it was that brought me to the idea in the first place (oh the joy of random scribblings). I've promised myself not to tinker with small changes but view it as a whole. And now it needs to cook.
It will never be a pirate punk treatise, but I'm hoping it still has the potential to be endearing, askew and a tight contained world.