It’s never a good sign when a writer prefaces a collection with an apology. It’s best to skip it and come to the poems with no preconceptions.
This collection from Philistine Press is a delight in the way that some professional photos of babies are a delight. Most professional photographs concerning infants are disturbing travesties, but every now and then you get one or two that work. Happy Fat Children and Protein Enhancers smiles up at you from the Internet with an uncomplicated glee that I can only compare to Neil de la Flor’s excellent Almost Dorothy.
One thing that caught my eye on the first scan of these poems is Duckworth’s use of sound effects. I was going to use the word ‘onomatopoeia’ as a descriptor here, but it doesn’t exactly fit. Not as complex as Joyce’s thunderwords in Finnegan’s Wake, the words nevertheless splat off the page as sound rather than language. The title of one poem is “The plane went Bang! pvff cLK”. The text of another is:
A fly gaped, size of me bewildering,
He smiled too,
Um … gutted
Other things that charmed me? The line and sentence lengths vary, creating a rolling rhythm that carries the reader to the last poem on its own momentum. The language is fresh, serving up a view of the world perceived with new eyes. I’m not going to talk about the contents of the poems, the themes, the tropes—I am neither a Structuralist nor a believer in the idea that the poetry of this post-modern age has to be ‘about’ anything. Each image materialises on the page utterly detached from its fellows; it stands alone to be turned every which way, and admired. Some examples include, “Walkers pack logo bag before them, / the sun rains a dry flavour,” “Sixteen hooves fight, / clash, rider spirit fiery,” “Survived the blur of watching shoals, / Constantly surfacing to pinch at all the fleshy parts, of gruesome, dishevelled bodies.”
There are many things I could continue to pick apart and display from this collection. If I did, this review would run on longer than I intended. Text on the Internet should be short. So we come to my final point. The collection is bookended with a strange collection of text taken from signs. There are photographs of each sign, apparently taken on the way to and from Duckworth’s walk to university. I read the texts through quickly, thinking it was a cool idea to present texts like these as poetry. After a few days, however [I’m not the brightest bulb in the box], I noticed that the title of each text corresponded with the title of a poem in the collection. A ping! moment reverberated in my brain. On studying the similarities and differences between the poems themselves and their corresponding texts, I was reminded of Pale Fire. Anything that makes me think of Nabokov gets my vote.
So, how would I sum up this collection? With a glimmering smile and steely teeth: