Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Ira Lightman: Two chapbooks

Phone In The Roll (Knives, Forks and Spoons, 2011)
Mustard Tart As Lemon (Red Squirrel, 2011)

The first of these chapbooks takes at its starting point “experiments with voice to text apps on a smartphone”. It’s a neat idea, and one that I’m surprised I haven’t come across before, but I suppose the real test of such an intriguing writing process is the end result.

The first thing to say, then, is that in reading it, the process never felt intrusive. You might expect the texts to be frustratingly haphazard, but in fact this is as thematically coherent a pamphlet as you’re likely to come across. The theme, as often as not, is the difficulty of communication, in public, in private, and in relationships, and what’s lost or distorted between thought and expression. In short, the process here suits the subject matter entirely, and instantly ceases to be an end in itself.

It’s hard to quote from, because the effect is gradual and cumulative, with the experience of reading it at times being like listening in on a conversation several seats down a noisy train carriage. Here’s the start of The Dream, for example:

I will never have what? I want it. I want
children with the woman I go live with! Fuck, for sure.
Have the new love and have to wait. You love. Search.

Children I have already take from me number of hours everyday
a number of times in three weeks. There is no room
for both children to have a time they, anyway, have had.

As the reader, you have to do a certain amount of work to fill in gaps, but there are phrases that stay with you, and importantly you keep making connections between seemingly disparate snatches of text the deeper you get into the book.

Of course, the original input into the process is Lightman’s, but the point, I suspect, is that you’re always left wondering just how large a gap there is between intention and end product. Intriguing and invigorating, and well worth revisiting.

Mustard Tart As Lemon comes across, initially at least, as a more straightforward proposition, with narratives and especially threads of arguments easier to grasp. That’s not to say they aren’t sometimes ‘difficult’, though, in the best sense of the word, precisely because Lightman is unafraid to talk about and around ideas and emotions, both directly and more obliquely. Take this passage:

I’m learning from you
not to trust too soon,
to have the courage
to feel hurt.
When I’m interrupted
or neglected, me
I’ll ride along
with the other
story, forget
mine exists.
You resist
kidnap of attention,
turn to who you
become. Some
conversations they have
are bullshit, but
I wouldn’t
dare to let them know
I think so, as you show
you do, the
up on your earpiece,
simply looking down.

The cumulative effect of Lightman’s poetry is just as apparent here as in the other pamphlet – it’s not a criticism to say that many of the poems bleed into each other.

Lightman utilises the page to its fullest extent – indents and line-breaks are superbly used to pace the poems and achieve that effect of recording thought-processes as they happen, while long lines and, towards the end, concrete-type poems also make an appearance.

Most effective of all, perhaps, are the dual-column passages – the ambiguity created by being able to read down and/or across works well for a poet whose subject is often, as suggested above, the difficulties of communication, especially on a personal level.
Perhaps that subject isn't a particularly unusual one to come across, especially away from the mainstream of British poetry, but what makes Lightman consistently enjoyable and rewarding to read is that he's never deterred by the possibility of failure - for all the intrusion of technology and language into our relationships, he never loses sight of the human.

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