There are places people go to when they use their minds, places like poems that furnish them with the material they need to escape the bounds of mortality. Stuart M. Buck’s poems are either long or short in this collection, they use humour of an incisive brand to pare away the scales that lie over your eyes and once they have been removed you can perhaps see the poet laughing beside you like a statue of Bhudda you can think about buying online when the mood takes you to browse.
A Welshman, Buck gives you something to think about, something that will not only break the tedium of web surfing, but that provides open windows through which to view a world of contradictions. The role of sex, for example, is paradoxical. In ‘dear richard’ the narrator talks to a neighbour or a friend – someone he knows well enough to look after his house while he’s out of town – and tells him caustically that he’s “fucking your wife” but in ‘midnight in prague’ a different narrator imagines, as he’s walking around the eastern European city, that a woman is following him (“her scent a whisper, her taste. her taste. I burn for it.”) But then he thinks about infinity, as if the thought of the possibility of a strange woman following him around a strange city makes his imagination take flight and soar.
Humour works to temper such transcendent impulses, as happens in ‘rejection letter to the crow that just flew into my bedroom window’ which needs little to accompany it as the main gist of the poem is cemented in the title. Yet even while commiserating with a bird that came to an unpleasant end, the narrator celebrates the creature’s “innocence” and recognises “the delirium of flight” as something that he wants and, perhaps, dreams of. Is this the same thing the poet uses to anchor the unreality of sex and desire? In the longer poem his avatar muses, “i feel sad. these buildings deserve more than to be fucked, impregnated by moneymakers and endless tourist traps.” He wants more.
The problem of physicality the poem about the crow also contains is not resolved here but in other places the poet gains altitude and seems to leave the earth – or is this an illusion? In ‘tom waits and an infinite softness’ a trope the poet sometimes uses – global warming – arises at the outset but it’s immediately subsumed in the minute progress of imagination’s random ephemera that graze the consciousness of the narrator as she daydreams – it might be a bad trip she’s experiencing – but then, “suddenly i knew things i never knew before and i was in love and i had lost and i was in every moment of every life”. The dry evidence of a shared life on a lonely planet – the awareness of impending disaster – mutates without any interruption into contemplation of the divine.
This is the measure of this poet’s achievement. It’s there in the Prague meditation as well, in the way, at the end of that poem, he is tangling with things that cannot have a voice because they are too fragile even for words, things as hard to even think of, like infinity, which sits smiling beyond imagination. But still the poet tries to express what it looks, feels, and tastes like. “to feel infinity is, i believe, to place your thumbs over the eyes of a ghost. to feel the soft, giving eyeballs below. to have the power to end the sight of another, but instead to feel the flitting, papery wings of their dreams.”
At the other end of this spectrum is a hard-nosed and blank humour, almost humourlessness, as in ‘cat’ (which opens the collection): “on my way to kill myself i met / a very friendly cat” and as the narrator turns, deviating his progress along the street – the cat is probably one of those sociable felines that sits on walls in the sun waiting for passersby to stop and stroke them – he thinks about the universe. As you would if you were, for some outrageous instant, thinking of putting an end to your life. And what does the man think? He thinks, “we are all decomposing slowly / so that is of some comfort”. This is dead, stone cold but then you get the feeling that this flash of awareness has helped the narrator to get through another tortured moment. Perhaps there is a God and on this day the eternal deity just happened to take the form of a roadside moggy?
Matthew da Silva was born in Brighton, Victoria, and grew up in Sydney. He has Bachelor of Arts and Master of Media Practice degrees from the University of Sydney and lived for just under a decade in Tokyo. He has two adult children and lives in Sydney.
Many of the poems in this collection are very short and are designed to capture a single lived moment where memory and experience merge in the flux of consciousness. When I was reading I was trying to place the poet geographically – was he British? American? (he’s British) – and so had to search for his name online but the universality of these observations of life is what strikes the reader, the poet’s ability to reach inside you as you scan each short line, picking up the referents and passing them to the mental synapses in your brain.
If there’s a narrative set up within this fragmentary world it’s one of the night in a foreign place, such as we find in the eponymous poem (‘Neon Ghosts’) in which, it appears, a man and a woman are getting ready to go out for dinner. The man is in the living room going about his business and the woman is in the shower getting ready. The man occasionally stares vacantly at the TV, which is on, and catches brief sequences of segments aired for viewers throughout the city. A politician is caught up in a scandal. The politician is a neon ghost but what about the man and the woman? Are they, also, something like ghosts? It seems, as a reader, that they might be indeed – and then what about me who’s writing this review about a book which contains a poem with, embedded in it, like a flash of lightning, three particular, vivid neon ghosts? What’s real and what’s just a stray phenomenon like a thought?
Where is the boundary between fiction and reality? The ephemeral nature of existence is catalogued in this relatively long poem. In ‘The Scene’, which is much shorter, an almost fictional America is imagined by the poet, a place “Stuart Davis knew” with “skyscrapers in / technicolour” full of “gas pumps” and “rooftops” that is “in full swing”. As in the first poem I talk about, here Parry economically reaches into the reader’s subconscious and drags out images that “belong” to a particular place at a specific point in time. Stuart Davis, a painter inspired by jazz, is a signal referent that pulls you back to the middle of the last century, a time when America’s place in the world was still being negotiated.
Perhaps it was a more innocent time because it came before all of the struggles of the second half of that century, but because of the link to now-still-popular artforms, it was perhaps a time when the soul of the nation was nevertheless cemented in the global imagination. Or else it’s because of the struggles of the second half of the century that the achievements of an earlier age finally came to be celebrated. What’s important is that the ideas the poet places in words are also inside the reader. A brief, mediated connection is made that links minds. All of the special resonances evoked by the name “America” suddenly rise up like ghosts to inhabit the room where the reader sits, focused on the grey page.
The dark energies of humanity are also canvassed, for example in ‘God’ and ’15:30’ – poems that appear conveniently on facing pages. A theme opened in ‘Neon Gods’ takes flight in ’15:30’ where “young daughters in / green pencil skirts & / high socks / hold their knees close” while boys stand watching them on the opposite corner. The shopkeeper is like a guardian in this dynamic scene that is fresh as a bird’s wing and just as swift, being over almost before it’s begun. In ‘God’, the man who’s focalising the narrative is “watching women walk under speechless green trees” and because of where this poem sits in the collection – right opposite the one already mentioned – you’re left wondering what is given to the reader to contemplate without speech.
The underbelly of society is exposed and the position of America – almost as if the name had been tattooed on life – is a refrain the poet keeps returning to like a memory of a tune heard in a commercial that aired in a hotel room while he was waiting to go out for dinner with his girlfriend. Though he thinks about getting into the shower he knows that there’s no time for monkey business – they have a reservation – and so he contents himself with daydreaming. In his mind old jazz tunes mix with the neon ghosts that are his brothers and sisters.
A Rainy Day in June
I went out in the rain,
when the streets are most quiet.
The precious sheen of cars
were seldom, in a hurry to vanish.
There comes a time
when thoughts curve
inwards like fern fronds;
everywhere you turn you see
yourself, and the urgent need
to be calm can’t be ignored.
A smooth dent in a step –
a haggard sofa looked tempting.
I took a seat as the rain fell harder,
softly intruding, each splash releasing
a truth I’m incapable of repeating.
Similarly, I have a thirst to peel
away at membranes and dry wounds.
The days that stretch the longest,
like reflections on the back of a spoon,
leave the deepest impression. Glass orbs
gleamed on the tips of gooseberry
thorns—absorbing me brightly:
portals to ecstasy preparing to yield.
Nothing is incorrect in nature,
not even me. I forged a circle,
parted polished leaves as if to re-shuffle
the landscape in the living room wallpaper,
their shapes: hand, heart, eye, tongue,
until I recognised home, struggled
with the keys before the right one slotted in.
A Fevers of the Mind Quick-9 Interview with Z.R. Ghani
Bio: Z. R. Ghani is a ‘Best of the Net’-nominated poet from North London, UK. She has a BA in Creative Writing from Bath Spa University. Zaina's poems have appeared in Magma Poetry, Black Bough Poetry, The Willowherb Review, Square Wheel Press, Bind Collective, Hazel Press, and The Adriatic. --
Z.R. GhaniAuthor and poetBA Creative Writing (Hons), BA Creative Arts (Hons)Instagram: @z.r.ghani
The wind caresses my ears
Speaking of distant hopes and fears
Of humanity that has gone awry
Of those who have given up the try
Are we destined to forever fail?
To live a life where all must wail
Was this always part of the plan
It cannot be the eternal lot of man
If we are made guilty by design
There must be some kind of sign
A key to the changing of our ways
Or forever like this we will stay
The Thunder Rolls
Beating a rhythm
Of time before time
The engine of the world
Flash and crack
The spark of life
Igniting the atmosphere
In the dark of night
births the coming day
All the Same
Hands shaking quiet and cold
Always so defiant and bold
Never mind what we do
Never mind what we say
What you feel in your skin
Shivers down your spine
There is no one to blame
And we are all the same
A Fevers of the Mind Quick-9 Interview with Stephen AllenBio: Stephen Allen was born and raised in Northern Ireland before relocating to Canada.
I have lived in the US and currently reside in Austria.
I have a novel and a poetry book self published, as well as several short stories. (Amazon KDP)
I also have a blog on WordPress; Through The cracked Window (revisited)