Posts Tagged ‘P. Edward Cunningham’

A Review of “Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer” by P. Edward Cunningham

Sunday, June 5th, 2011

Jessica Maybury

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.

Official P. Edward Cunningham Web Site
Official Pangur Ban Party Web Site

A Review of “This Boy, This Broom” by P. Edward Cunningham

Sunday, September 5th, 2010

Spencer Dew

This attractively designed little book from BatCat Press relays a series of dispatches from the frontlines of the American cineplex, P. Edward Cunningham’s accounts of his days as a teenage employee of a movie theater, replete with sweeping, second-hand candy, and occasional snippets of human tragedy. The writing, alas, does not match the productive value of the text itself, though there are stronger moments, such as the repeating “Shift” sections, terse, chronological reports of the job itself. “Return to lobby,” one such entry reads, “No popcorn to sweep. Concessionist smiles at me. Asks me what my name is. I tell her. She wears too much eye shadow. Eyes like Nixon. Swollen. Results of a shellfish allergy? She tells me I’m cute. Radio lights up.” Where such a minimalist–and speedy–style succeeds, much of Cunningham’s writing falls short, stumbling over its own phrasing while aiming for a comic didacticism, a discourse of distance from the thing itself. “As a person who is often oblivious to the obvious, I consistently fail to notice statistics that some would consider highly informative when searching for someplace to spend on holiday,” the author writes, by way of a story about the wonders and horrors of Detroit. Then, of the visit, he says, “Meg and I were rather stunned by the number of Picassos hanging in the halls of the DIA–an amount larger than that of most museums we had visited. Compared to the copious amounts of wind-swept trash throughout the city, the museum was quite the contrast.” My problem here, ultimately, is that the awkwardness of the writing masks an absence, that of full characterization of the narrator. “I imagine that having the rare permission to photograph anything in the contemporary portion of a museum is similar to a police officer letting you hold his gun for a moment or two,” he says, and there is, in the unreality of that particular comparison for the narrator, in the stretch and the smirk of it, something simply missing. The relationship to art–to photography of it–remains vague, and while this is a minor example, the same problem plagues the book’s emotional core. As the narrator remains vague on his own feelings about his situation, his work (he’s upset when a new manager promotes all ushers to the “head usher” title, which is clear enough, but “Nothing mattered anymore” hits the wrong sort of hyperbolic note) so too does he remain disturbingly distant from the suffering of others that he routinely encounters on the job. The narrator can turn away from a man sobbing into his hands after, on his day out with his son, sitting in a movie seat saturated with human waste…yet he turns away, too, as author, leaving his readers unsure whether to cry or laugh, leaving them, in the wake of his own unexamined insularity, ready to quickly move on as well. This Boy, This Broom is autobiography devoid of intimacy, lacking an authentic sense of the author’s self and his relations with the world. Ultimately, the book mimics the tedium of the work at the cineplex, which is perhaps one of its goals. But with the scenes Cunningham witnessed and the experiences he endured, he could have crafted a much more affecting text.

Official P. Edward Cunningham Web Site
Official BatCat Press Web Site