Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

Run by HappenStance Press

Koo Press, 2009, £5.00

www.koopress.co.uk

Sphinx 5.5 stripe rating

Reviewed by Tony Williams, Lizzy Dening and Kirsten Irving

 

 

 

Tony Williams:

There’s something very winning about the persona in Michael Pedersen’s pamphlet, and the persona is everything. The poems are sprawling, gauche affairs, giving the sense of a bombastic, disaffected young man, cynical but idealistic, half in love and half in hate with the Scottish towns he inhabits. Maybe it’s the northern setting, but I kept thinking of Dostoyevsky’s anarchists, railing against the world and against themselves:

 

She breathes so lightly, purrs, as if her lungs

were making music; restful notes throttled

by my brute orchestra of noise.

(‘Flowers’)

 

She’s wasting away

in this exhausted lung of a town,

fraternizing with the likes of me.

(‘Oyster’)

 

This masculinity, flexing its muscles but slightly disgusted with itself, is accompanied by an expansive rhetoric which can work very well:

 

If we stay together, me tit to your tat,

vice-versa, I will never yell out Areeba

 

really mean it. You will never drop those sighs

into the sea.

 

The energy and pace of the rhetoric sometimes lead to a loss of control, though: several times I found myself wishing that Pedersen had chosen the best image from a selection rather than leaving the reader to decide.

 

‘Death is a Crafty Sort’ lists the ways we imagine death, but the power of lines like “I have smelt Death festering if rotten fruit. . ./ fermenting in the lies of perfumed debutantes,/ smelling sharper than raw onion on the breath” is reduced by sitting among less imaginative versions. And the rhetorical flourish can waver into overwrought euphemism:

 

Yawning eyes fill with the leftover moisture

of sorrow squeezed from tear ducts.

 

Of course a lack of control is one of the risks of this sort of expansive style, and I’d rather see excess than a pared-down conventionality.

 

More of a problem, perhaps, is the way that some of the poems drift away into a slightly platitudinous Romantic reflection, like the poem about seeing an otter, or the one about visiting a friend in hospital. When a voice’s hold on the reader depends in part on its youthful charm, it’s hard for that voice to achieve the authority of wisdom.

 

 

Lizzy Dening:

A twelve-course banquet of poetry, with cuts of prime rib and refreshing lemon sorbet, served up alongside stodgy rice pudding and, I’m afraid to say, liberal helpings of cheese.

 

Just flicking through the pamphlet (whose design is pleasing, if dull) it becomes clear that Pedersen is in need of a ruthless editor: most poems are heavy and form-free. That said, reading past this is often richly rewarded by a startling detail or observation.

 

A fine example of this is the collection’s opening poem, ‘Flowers’, which is full of obsolete or unimaginative details like “yellow” before sunflower, and sweat being “sticky and sweet”. Alongside this runs Pedersen’s tendency to slip into melodrama, where people are “keepers/ of uneasy conscience” and moments “live and die only once”. While of course these feelings are universal, it is the poet’s role to state the obvious in an unobvious way, and at times this pamphlet ignores this rule.

 

That said, of course, there are glorious moments within almost every poem, moments that make one despair that Pedersen has not been constructively edited. ‘Flowers’ is full of high points, such as the ballooning geckos in the background, and

 

Who’d have thought

skin rises like yeasty bread

 

not to mention the lyrical, “You will never drop those sighs/ into the sea”.

 

‘John’ was the poem I felt ought to have been the collection’s strongest. It focuses on the overdose of a flatmate, and has some strong imagery, for example:

 

I leave the hospital and you bleeping

like a dying smoke detector

 

and:

 

So you’re a Zimmer-frame crawler, shuffling along

as if walking on constant snow, feet throbbing

like frozen hands dunked in piping-hot water.

 

But then again, the poem is indulgently juvenile at times:

 

Yawning eyes fill with the leftover moisture

of sorrow squeezed from tear ducts.

 

One can’t help but think an older Pedersen will look back on lines like these with the embarrassment of re-reading a teenage diary.

 

Speaking of embarrassment, I would also love to ask the man himself if he ever reads ‘Contrasexual Cuddles’ at open mic sessions? I could hardly be described as prudish (and aged 23 myself, am not easy to shock) but found myself blushing furiously reading it.  Even recalling it now I’m turning pink. . .

 

Obviously at the age of 24, Michael Pedersen is open to further life experience, and with some basic training in form and some encouragement in the ‘less is more’ approach, I feel his work could soon be a Michelin-starred dining experience.

 

 

Kirsten Irving:

Before going inside this pamphlet, it’s necessary to talk about the cover. Koo Press has a great name that’s catchy, screams ‘Scotland’ with pride and isn’t too serious, as well as a gorgeous logo, and the cover is printed onto a lovely, textured card. There are numerous frustratingly unprofessional glitches, however, that mar an otherwise tactile and attractive collection.

 

Firstly, the word ‘Poems’ has been stuck on the front, below the title and above the author’s name. Not really necessary. On the back, they describe Pedersen (or perhaps he describes himself) as an “aspiring writer” and Tom Bryan, who has provided a glowing back quote, is referred to as “The poet Tom Bryan” (if the reader doesn’t know who he is, what does it matter that he’s a poet?).

 

Frustrating, because there’s a whole lot to really enjoy inside. Michael Pedersen’s poetry is energetic, fluid and conversational, without being throwaway. There are standout pieces. In the excellently titled ‘Death is a Crafty Sort’, you become caught up following the title character as he gloats at the grief of widows and orphans, lurks in rotting fruit and inhabits bodies in various guises, while ‘Boom Town’ throws up a spiky sense of alienation and trying to catch up to everything and everyone else as they speed ahead (“three weeks of mating/ and mutiny and I’ve aged a year”).

 

There are awkward moments in the collection, however, such as the gooey  ‘Contrasexual Cuddles’, where Pedersen goes for a light-hearted approach to sex and slides into a combination of over-egged metaphor (“mining your jewels”) and comedy (“messiah of the nudey dream”).

 

It’s towards the end that you get to the genuinely tender sentiment of “I’d rather be in you than any secret club”, but the preceding stanzas muddy the way a bit.

 

Overall, though, there’s a clarity and ease to these poems that welcomes a reader, but a firmer editorial hand could have really tightened things up. . . I can’t help thinking this pamphlet should have a more interesting or concrete title than Part-Truths. This is a title that, like a dowdy outfit, ages its wearer prematurely.