Sunday, 13 June 2010

Static Exile, by George Ttoouli

Penned In The Margins, 2009, £7.99

I could offer the same excuse here as I did with Michael McKimm's collection, as regards actually getting round to reviewing it. If anything it's even harder to get a handle on, with the result that I've started and almost finished this piece half a dozen times, before changing my mind and going right back to the beginning. Although you wouldn't, admittedly, be too far wrong if you concluded that I'm just bone idle.

So, where to start this time? Well, the beginning's as good a place as any, with opening poemGists and Piths straight away exploring the inherent slipperiness of language and meaning. It serves as notice that Ttoouli's work is going to take some getting your head round. It also fizzes with energy, and it's fun. I mean, laugh out loud, read-it-again-and-again fun.

That Ttoouli manages to maintain that acute seriousness of purpose alongside a willingness to, above all, entertain the reader, is one of the great pleasures here.

Take the title poem, this book's centrepiece, in which Godzilla is re-imagined as a satire on our post-9/11 society. Paranoia and confusion reign ("if only someone knew what was happening / & could say it / & couldn't be ignored"), and the language moves from the brutal to the absurd via all points in between. It's a surprise, and a cause for complaint about modern poetry, that too often it fails to engage with politics in any meaningful way, but that's not an accusation you could level here. This is satire, and often genuinely caustic satire, too - if, as I suspect, it's about to make a comeback in UK poetry, then I'll be applauding all the way, and cheering Ttoouli's place in the vanguard.

Then there's Ghosts, a superbly taut and deceptively simple piece that considers the lives of immigrant workers overlooked and shunned by the society they're helping to build and maintain. It ends with the poet swimming:

with the ghosts in the pool by the flats,
their wakes skimming behind their empty shapes

It's a memorable image, but there are no easy answers offered, no escape or consolation.

Elsewhere, Ttoouli's Greek heritage is a strong strand running through the collection, with myths reworked, and a strong sense of past and present existing alongside each other ("Into the bar walks a minotaur, / orders whiskey sours and waits for his paramour"). Again, his gaze is as unforgiving and occasionally dizzying as a midday Mediterranean sun.

Finally, there are forays into the personal, too, with This Poem All The Time a particular favourite, managing to be tender, funny and questioning at the same time.

It's getting late now, really late, and I'm uncomfortably aware that, yet again, I haven't done this book justice, but I'm determined I won't scrap the review this time. Your best option at this point, I'd suggest, is to buy it yourself, enjoy its many very considerable strengths, write your own review, and show me how it's done. My best option, I suspect, is to read it all over again.


Tom said...

Great review Matt! I think you've hit the nail on the proverbials.

Matt Merritt said...

Thanks Tom! Took me long enough, but it was a pleasure to read and re-read.