The Poet Creep by Reuben Todd.
Christchurch: Reuben Todd (2017).
Reviewed by Patricia Prime.
The Poet Creep by Reuben Todd contains an index of numbered poems, with their date and place of origin. This is a bright poetry that uses language like a palette. The lines are lean, the poems compact, the words have clearly been fought over.
The opening poem of section ‘1. D:/IS/INTER Christchurch, 2013’ is characteristic in the ‘arty’ way in which it descends two pages, beginning with this verse:
When every billboard speaks
of Robert Frost
I sit and sigh
and wonder if
the road less travelled
There follow four prose poems, a traditional poem, another prose poem, two poems, two more prose poems, a conversational poem and a final poem. Visually, these are stunning works. Todd’s writing is open, urban, witty, wide-ranging, and free-flowing. He uses his devices in a loose, sometimes humorous and interesting manner. The prose poem “THE TOUR”, for example, features a man showing a boy around a building. It begins:
Let me give you the tour, boy. This is the
castle I built up from the ground. Brick by
brick. I’m a self-made man, boy.
At the end, he takes the boy outside to look at the cityscape:
The cityscape. Towers of excellence. Power.
Phallic symbols of obedience. The beauty, the
absolute breathtaking beauty of it. One day,
Bruce. One day all this will be yours.
The prose poem, “BE GREAT OR BE FREE” concentrates on the rising cost of toilet paper: ‘Toilet paper, like everything else, had been stocked to capacity for the entire population projection of the Sphere. Then things changed; a lot of us got a few extra years, and thus the need for more toilet paper and a systematic discussion of how the synthetic tissue would be distributed.’ “NORMAL” is a poem about the year 2013. It opens:
In 2013 it was normal to fear
that to war was human.
In 2013 it was normal to eat cheese
lavishly, and sometimes eat meat.
The second group of poems “IS?TANBUL” contains 5 sections of short imagistic lyrics, where Todd’s tendency for scrawling out words and phrases in the poems, minimal punctuation, concrete poems and minimalism, produce some pleasing short pieces. Although they differ from each other in poetic form, Todd’s poems illustrate his attempt to ‘let the mind lead the poem’. Often it is possible to discern a shift that mirrors his ideas and thoughts. The mind perceives one visible or mental perception, it then shifts to another way of seeing or perceiving and concludes in a moment of resolution or revelation. Here is an example:
I regulate myself better
when I am shirtless
I particularly enjoyed “hello” for the mundanity of the greeting and for its detail:
*bouncing on the
Repetition plays a large part in poems such as “This morning” and “Buckets”. At their best though, the poems succeed in tracing patterns of thought and sound in their lines. In denser poems than these, such as “THERE IS A SILVERFISH”, Todd makes skilful use of numbering to create the energy of the piece which describes the silverfish in humorous detail. The poem begins:
There is a silverfish
in the bathroom sink
The section “UNCOUPLED V GNETTE” contains a series of eight pages of photographs from a place called Schengen Area. “W!ISH”, Sydney, 2015 (section 4) contains short prose pieces, varying in length from one to seven lines. The first is a simple piece about a relationship:
I want to smile with you, I want to laugh with you, I want
to play together! I want to be passionate. I want to fight!
I want to curl up together –
I want to sleep side-by-side.
The last piece, is a one-line phrase in capital letters:
THE BOY GETS SOMETHING ELSE ENTIRELY.
Section five, ‘Where you met me. Wellington, 2012’, is a short piece of fiction, in which Todd may be focusing on himself or a created character. It has a conversational quality, humour and just the right amount of narrative tension to capture the reader’s imagination. Here is the beginning where the persona is a small child recalling an accident:
When I was three I broke my leg. My Mum tells
me I had to have my cast replaced three times
because I ran around on it too much. I like
that image: the unstoppable kid.
The closing section, ‘Where we part. Budapest, 2016?’, contains ten poems of one-word lines, descending the page:
At one level, this is a tour de force in which the description of a certain place is
neatly encapsulated. At another, it is perceptive, connective and employs nebulous atmosphere.
I understand from this volume that Todd is trying to energise language and poetry, to make us look again at words, think about syntax, spacing, line breaks etc., and when it works as in this collection it is utterly uplifting. This is a compelling book that mines human life to significant effect. It contains love, insight and song, humour and tenderness … but mostly it contains the emotions of language.
Patricia Prime, besides being a regular contributor to takahē, is co-editor of Kokako and assistant editor of Haibun Today. Patricia’s primary interest is Japanese short form poetry: haiku, tanka, haibun and tanka prose and she has published a book of collaborative tanka sequences called Shizuka (2015).
First published takahē 90