On first introduction, the page featuring Cunningham’s collection seems confusing. I had been expecting a collection of poetry, rather than a series—but from the very start each poem links to the others like songs on that political Green Day album or an early Raveonettes LP.
The first poem of the series is the longest. It brought Ted Hughes’s “Panther” to mind. It sets the scene. You’re a child in a dream of zoos, of lions.
With Kool-Aid stained teeth
and a paper mask,
you roared like a man-eater.
The poetry that follows doesn’t resemble poetry in the way that the first does. There are no familiar left-aligned lines, stanzas or any of that malarkey. What we have are paragraphs. Is this poetry? What makes poetry poetry anyway? I once heard the argument that the two words that elevated William Carlos Williams’s note about eating the plums in the ice box were, “forgive me.” What about here? Here we have stark colours and images set before us in crisp lines. “These lights and red organs stretched for miles and you realized earth’s seams were coming undone.” If this is poetry, then the novels of Michael Ondaatje should surely also be poetry. Or have we crossed the boundary between poetry and prose poetry? In these post-modern times, does such a blurring matter, or is it expected?
The sequence continues in a blur of metaphors and similes. It probably sounds like this is turning into a roll-call of names and allusions, but I am reminded of Glamorama:
Inside the space where its heart should have been, you retrieved a fistful of red confetti. You held your fist outside the cage and hummed as you released a paper roar.
Wrenching my head out of the other books I recognise, I realise that we are turning a corner here. The lion of the first poem has transformed, and so has the child.
The collection masses itself in the mind as a primeval collage-cloud, coiling in suspension, in myriad colours. Hopefully it won’t leave any time soon.