Reviews

CLIPPED WINGS?
A review of the exhibition
Angels of Anarchy: Women Artists and Surrealism at Manchester Art Gallery, published online by Mute.


OBJECTIVE PHANTOMS
A review of Gherasim Luca’s
The Passive Vampire, published in Mute Vol.2 No.12  and available online here.


BROKEN THINGS
Padrika Tarrant, Broken Things, Salt Publishing, Cambridge, 2007.
www.saltpublishing.com

This collection of thirty-three disquieting short stories from Padrika Tarrant constitutes a remarkable debut. From the very first tale, Darling, we are taken on a descent into an unsettling world of obsession and psychosis that is the strand running throughout the whole book. The narrator finds a dead dog at the side of a road, taking it home where it is lovingly cared for, stuffed with plastic bags and covered in papier-maché, patched up and painted like an idol – but there is putrescent stench and howling and troubled dreams. Or in Coffinwood, in which, one night, a teenager befriends a child who crawls out from the earth in a grassy area outside of a block of flats and sings “in the wetblack language of soil” about her coffinwood house; a brief and touching relationship more real, more human than any contact with the world of ‘normal’ life. In many of these stories we are confronted by an inability to cope with the modern world’s banality and bureaucracy, wherein a retreat from dingy bedsit into fantasy can unlock volatile inner worlds, with their delirious insights, irrational connections, sacred meanings and supernatural powers. The outside world (whether in the form of a landlady or inquisitive neighbours, the social services or police) is always threatening to intrude and dispel the uncanny enchantments of dementia.

The title’s collection, Broken Things, aptly summarises the narratives of people whose lives and minds have fallen apart in some way, the disintegration opening doors onto magical realities that are far from idealised. The title also suggests those discarded objects frequently found throughout these stories, objects that are collected “to keep safe what nobody else cares for” and are bestowed with a life that can sometimes be disturbing. This element of animating objects links Tarrant directly to the Czech surrealist, Jan Švankmajer; a connection that is not in any sense merely stylistic, but is bound through a surrealist sensibility. As well as Švankmajer, her antecedents, correctly identified on the book’s dust jacket by the poet George Szirtes, also include Lautréamont and Bruno Schulz, to which one might add Angela Carter and Rikki Ducornet. Certainly, these are urban fairy tales that open up the shuttered rooms of the mind, that scratch away the surface of everyday reality, uncovering its darkness and silence, but also its luminosity and music. They disturb and delight, sometimes simultaneously.

from PHOSPHOR No 1 (2008) available at Surrealist Editions


READER, HELP ME!
Andrew Boobier, Reader, Help Me, Graft Poetry, Bradford, 2008.
www.graftpoetry.co.uk

The first published collection of poems by Andrew Boobier comes after many years spent studying, editing and writing poetry, and its care and consideration are evident; his is not a headlong rushing, helter-skelter, into print. The poems presented herein have many facets and, taken together, cannot easily be compartmentalised, their elusiveness being the collection’s strength. Many of Boobier’s poems give peripheral glimpses of the small mysteries that can be unravelled from the ordinary, those anomalous phenomena quietly observed in the usually drab parade of the everyday – sometimes reminiscent of the descriptions found in Ian Breakwell’s Diaries – with a humour the spectrum of which moves from an uncertain grey (do we laugh, are we meant to?) to unmistakeable black (do we dare?) and back again and then somewhere else entirely. A good example of this can be seen in the The Stray, the first poem in the collection, which is also printed herein (on p.56) – and also Pink Pink and the “mystery of the man at four-lane ends” or, another probing park observation, What Little A Man Can Do:

each step echoes darkly, ghosts thought,
blots the copybook of quietude,
and upsets the landscape posing for its portrait.

There is also the poignancy of memory, redolent with a sense of place, for example in the evocation of sexual encounter in Cuckoo Wood, a time-machine of words that transports us back to our own al fresco fumblings:

We skirted enamelled skulls of Slippery Jack
and climbed into a hollow behind chest-high ferns
far away from the tourist footfall

The legerdemain of his wordplay has an obvious surrealist touch, such as in the aphoristic Old Saws, in memory of Ivor Cutler:

Sloppy service in a pie shop is never worth the wait.

One man’s meat is another sheep’s misfortune.

But Boobier is no mere technician; there are strong philosophical threads running through much of his work, sometimes light and gossamer-like, sometimes barbed and sharp as needles. It is no surprise then to learn that he translated George Bataille’s Histoire de l’oeil as a student.

With this, one of their first titles, the publishers, Graft, have set out with the aim of being self-funded, uncommonly free of the easy lures of Arts Council grants; its spirit of independence is commendable and deserves support.

from PHOSPHOR No 1 (2008) available at Surrealist Editions