auto producer, Robert Burton
The Red Ceilings Press, 2018 £6.00
Is the poet condemned to lament?
If the answer is yes, then it’s surely a self-condemnation or perhaps, as Rob Burton’s pamphlet auto producer suggests, an auto-condemnation.
We go about thinking we’re special and unique. Nobody asks for another’s great insight into our personal loss, despair or isolation. Yet, from Shelley to Radiohead, when presented with the results, we (the audience) consume the art hungrily while condemning the author for wallowing and self-pity.
But no. A poet’s lament is a service to any other human who chooses not confront those feelings during those long, dark nights of the soul.
Burton’s auto producer is a living confrontation with the self just before sleep takes us into the next normality. Those feelings of such clear genius ... if only we could reach over to the bedside table and write them down ....
The poet’s message?
Those feelings are as much genius as madness. He lays them out physically for us in the bright light of day:
tones stream toward
a narrow gap under the door
Disrupt the joy into
and i just speak
star of heaven
legend of death
Yessss! Those were my last thoughts on those nights when I didn’t have the poet’s pen next to the bed to review myself and, instead, chose to turn the pillow and count sheep.
Much better (and how grateful I am) to have these moments laid out for all their half-genius half-madness and total-truth.
Because it is not the poet who is condemned to lament. Instead, it’s the rest of us who are condemned, we who cannot look at ourselves and automatically produce the introspection so vital to get us through those nights.
Most people appreciate a good puzzle or two, don’t they? Equally, most poetry readers appreciate a degree of clarity, so that they can have some grasp of what the poems are ‘about’.
In its unnumbered 35 pages of poetry, this small pamphlet, without a synopsis to direct the reader, is rather enigmatic. Does auto producer consist of one poem, or is it in fact a series of untitled poems which can be read either as a sequence or not? It gradually dawns on the reader that it is in fact one long-ish poem. Punctuation is absent throughout, and, with two exceptions (other than ‘I’), so are capital letters, and those features augment the sense of the text’s unity.
The poem conveys the ups-and-downs of a loving, but finished, relationship, between a self-pitying ‘I’ (sometimes rendered as ‘i’) and a ‘you’. The pair are unnamed and non-gender-specified. The pamphlet’s size works to the poem’s advantage, by presenting it in small chunks, with short lines and enough white space on the page to reflect the stop/start, complex emotions wrought by the relationship’s end:
sometimes i want to be near
you for us to be the same
to close that
and touch you
staying natural always
not to have to cross your path
or see you from any window
of any room
Most puzzling, maybe, is what bearing the title has on the poem. One might take ‘auto’ as meaning ‘self’, which would be apt given how much overt ‘I’ there is in the poem, but what of ‘producer’? Is it hinting that the ego of the ‘I’ persona is becoming self-perpetuating?
Some enjoyable surreal flourishes provide memorable images among the memories of the relationship: ‘plasticine comes up through the ground / comes up through the table / through the potato as butter / having two meanings at least’.
The poem’s format also means that the patient reader can follow the relationship back to its beginning: ‘the moment / your tongue traced my lips / you were always there / making a / pattern / just for me’.