Ports, Calum RodgerThe pamphlet is not the usual shape: it's wider and shorter than A5 so a non standard size, but not quite a square. Background is cream. There is no imagery. The title in in large thin sans serif caps about one third of the way down: the letters are well spaced. Below this there is an X symbol and an O symbol (lower case). Beneath this in fairly large lower case, and perhaps a bold font, are the words (on one line) 'by Calum Rodger'

Spam Press, 2019  £4.00

The reader as first-person gamer

By positioning the reader as a first-person gamer Rodger highlights our position of control. It’s a position we’re already aware of but here, by handing us the controls in the form of gaming symbols and imperative directions, our active role is foregrounded. The directions we take within a poem — usually a private cerebral act — are suddenly in focus.

Conversely, this focus draws attention to the limitations of our choices, framed as they are by the game designer’s/poet’s imagination, and we immediately relinquish the other paths our own imagination could have taken.

Could this be read as a wider analogy for life (isn’t every poem?), that for many of us freedom of choice is inevitably set within society’s maze of glass walls, doors, ceilings? By choosing to play with canonical poems, incumbent on their well-known interpretations or misinterpretations, Rodgers further highlights the point by effectively constructing routes for us to take through them.

Some of the actions handed to the reader/gamer (Press/Hold/Grasp/Dilate/Rise) intensify our relationship with the poem and suggest a sensory/sexual reading, as we are invited to take part in the moment. In some ways this seems an obvious device, yet its simplicity is surprisingly effective. Taking on the role of the first person increases intimacy: we are the open-mouthed circle, the kiss of the cross. In ‘Having a Coke with Frank O’Hara’, for example, we are his date, half listening, flirting, falling for him; it perfectly captures the awkward self-awareness of the moment.

In other poems, the placing of the reader front and centre is less obvious. ‘Wave’, for example, takes the salient point of the famous Stevie Smith poem ‘Not Waving but Drowning’ and creates a simple, visually effective, concrete version. We are caught in a hypnotic wave of stanzas, swept out to sea as we flail at controls that invite us to ‘wave’ or ‘drown’.

There is much to be read into this short pamphlet with its witty, playful texts. Most constitute a distilled, self-directed masterclass in How To Read A Poem.

Vicki Husband