FOUR REVIEWS BY CHRISTINE MURRAY
1. IN DAMAGE SEASONS
by Michael McAloran
‘Clear the air! Clean the sky! Wash the wind!
Take the stone from the stone,
take the skin from the arm, take the muscle from
the bone, and wash them.
Wash the stone, wash the bone, wash the brain,
wash the soul, wash them wash them!’
The Chorus , from Murder In The Cathedral by T.S Eliot.
(we convulse in sun light there are skins to trace and there is flesh to caress in some sudden dawning where the sudden shakes the boundary’s clasp….)
Scene Forty Two, In Damage Seasons
The structure underpinning Michael McAloran’s In Damage Seasons is Palladian (a.b.a) or a quasi-triptych. It isn’t however an altar-piece or a pleasure-dome of a book. The parts of the triptych structure are: Onset, In Damage Seasons, and nothing’s bones-. The thematic thrust of the book which fully comprises 130 pages interspersed with kaleidoscope images, is barely contained in the second section eponymously titled and consisting of fifty individual scenes. Onset opens the book setting the myriad kaleidoscope theme, and nothing’s bones- the third part of the work, is a paean. It forms an accumulation and gathering of the essence of the book. It is a beautifully written after-death, where life is the exilic condition.
Make no mistake, the doors of the triptych: Onset and nothing’s bones-, barely enclose the mid-section of the book and do not make for a sense of containment let alone comfort. Their purpose is to iterate the wolf howl of loss and an uncompromising poetic-voice that sometimes feels oxygenless. The book encloses this disembodied voice that has deranged from its centre and meaning. In visual terms the book is the raw howl of a lost generation. McAloran is too consummately skilled in his image making to drop his theme (the howl) and he works it with a fine acuity:
‘sing spun alone till dry of speech the asking of the
prayers from the hollow entity unto some foreign grace
traceless depth will in end no end in depth sing spun
alone till speech evaporated’
from nothing’s bones-
The dystopian landscape and setting of In Damage Seasons is dense with image and requires the reader’s full concentration. Here the wusses may leave, it is not for you. Onset and nothing’s bones- form the closable field of the overall triptych that is In Damage Seasons. They are as splattered with blood, torn nails, ejaculate and shit as the Hieronymus Bosch nightmare mid-section of the book:
‘an amber nocturne and the force of blue stun a
silhouette a shadowing a trail of dead words scattered
behind in retrospect of hollow oblivion’s benign claim I
or we/eye dead of yet but once heart meat heart less…’
Scene Twenty Five (is dead meat heart…)
The walls of the cylinder form occur throughout In Damage Seasons. The cylinder, of polished metal-sides, with an interesting kaleidoscopic window detail. Sylvia Plath often described the rarefied air of her bell-jar, and her reader knows that its breach involved the fatal-wounding of her panic-bird. She described her artifice, her work, as the blood-jet of poetry. In McAloran’s case its blood-jet, ejaculate, tearing, bruising, incision and excreta. It is loss, torture, violence and pain:
‘the blood comes to the fore and there is nothing.…’
Colours inherent in the book are amber and blue, a streak of red, and shades of metallic. One minute the writer is imprisoned in the doom of the non-working affair, the next he is shattering the funnel against a stone-wall and walking through the shardings of glass barely observing the beauty he made. It is meant to wound his feet, his hands and his body. We read rupture, derangement of form and the screaming voice:
‘kicking convulsive in the reek asking of the breaking
night’s dissemble through the cortex mirror a sheen of
black iris flowerings a kaleidoscope of burning
carousels spun alone reaching for none…
the blade asks of the final wind the death inhaled the
caress of some vital wound ask of till subtle bound
some stasis somewhere other than sung aloud in glint
Scene Forty Two (is stillness to brace…)
There is no piety to the howling of the poet. There is a type of tenderness and wry acceptance which could not be called compromise in any way, shape or fashion. This is strong and assured work. It is unrelenting for the reader:
….here and there the blind terse the fettering of all spun
till head of till spire of spine recorded as if to un-know
hence laughter cracks the ice like some obscene
symphonium trace of desire still the living clot in the
eye the tongue torn out silenced of all …
ah break the bones of it there’ll yet be asked of till
splendour held in mockery of stun shards of bone and
foreign silences child’s toy fragments the walls peeling
in the artificial light…
from Onset, 5-
The sense, or aftertaste of a book gives it its meaning. I tend to leave down a McAloran book with a sense of altered-reality. To me that is the meat of the poetic work, and it is often absent from the canon due to a mistaken sense that poetry should lack violence, or maybe it should do something pretty. Like adorn the margins of a chocolate-box culture bent into its own restless consumption.
If your taste runs to Bataillesque, then this is the meat for you. In Damage Seasons is post-apocalyptic with a hint of tender. The apocalypse inherent in the book’s imagery is of body and of mind. It contains the reality of violence worked on the body and told through the disembodied mouth in the brilliantly written nothing’s bones-
2. ALL STEPPED/ UNDONE
(the griefscape as no-place)
endless ribcage of the sky / the glut of blood beneath
and a pulse of shit / dry your eyes / it’s just beginning
( p123 , all stepped / undone – ) is © Michael McAloran
All Stepped /Undone- is Michael McAloran’s fifth full poetry collection, and his second full collection with Oneiros Press. Tracing a line through McAloran’s work to date, one can discern a drive to whittle his poetic voice to its essential core.
All Stepped /Undone- is sometimes a griefscape, the collection is by turns both nihilistic and elegiac in its tone:
as if to -
bled winds of
spasm lock of the atoned blood
no not enough
birthing as if to ….
(p54 , as if to – from in thin dreaming- ) is © Michael McAloran
In structural terms All Stepped /Undone is loosely tripartite, however it is not as structurally underpinned as in McAloran’s In Damage Seasons – (Onerios Books 2013) which was somewhat more defined and contained within the poet’s structuring of his text. This is no bad thing in itself, as an evident structure can limit the movement of the text. I have included my reading of In Damage Seasons- at link. cf. my note at the end of this post.
The three parts of All Stepped /Undone- are : till claimed – , of thin dreaming – , and all stepped /undone- .
till claimed- and of thin dreaming – are quite similar in form and in their sharing of theme and image. all stepped /undone- while sharing and picking up on these themes is aphoristic and condensed in its poetic expression:
head of dust / no /that was the drapery of the silence /
called upon /subtle till graceless / till bounty / reflected
upon /lest the burgeoning see
(p106 , all stepped /undone – ) is © Michael McAloran
One can see the development of McAloran’s voice from his earlier collection of aphorisms , Attributes, through the third section of this current book. His poetic voice has become skilled and honed to allow for his sure expressiveness which he achieves in the least amount of words.
Readers of Michael McAloran would do well to acquire the books Attributes and In Damage Seasons to see how he has developed and opened out his poetic work. I mention those previous works in particular as they are most related to the current text under review, in my view.
I feel that McAloran is directing his skill toward a quality of expressiveness that is the sure mark of the artist. He is developing a mature poetic voice that has a quality of tone rare in contemporary Irish poetics :
back-flexed / the arrow’s breath to claim the sky of /
night / the bread broken / such was the blade’s redeem /
or the blood-cut star of light / glistening /of the heart’s
(p 116, all stepped /undone -) is © Michael McAloran
Whilst related to McAloran’s collection of aphorisms, Attributes, in form, and to In Damage Seasons – in its intent and expression, this work is more loosely structured than both, and is therefore built wholly in the active poetic voice. The poet’s voice as mouthpiece of the internal landscape. In this case the voice or protagonist is mouthing his grief and alienation.
Of the three parts to this book , till claimed- is the furthest the writer will go in terms of his willingness to express alienation. The poems herein, and those of in of thin dreaming- are generally longer than in the final eponymously titled section.
There is as always with McAloran a complexity of image and a deprecating humour, the poem scuttle- can be read a few ways:
dread knock and yet …
of the lock upon
spill of spurious lights
worthless as breath
with my little eye
scuttle of dead hand wavering
scuttle – is from till claimed – p11 of All Stepped/Undone and © Michael McAloran
One is never quite sure, hence my delight at word-play and at McAloran’s image-play/ply of.
With McAloran a longer poem can be less expressive than the short aphorism. It is often akin to witnessing the unleashed voice in I (till claimed – ) warm up and spit out a gully :
(absence of light)
rage of death
and the cold ravage
in dead weather sun light
(p 71 , of thin dreaming – ) is © Michael McAloran
The unaccommodated and loosely structured poetic voice suits the visual artist in McAloran:
vortices of …
(ah spill the night
..into cups of earth)
in this dry sunlight
breaking for favour sensed
earthed from out of which to cast
vacantly as shadow
(p46 excerpt of biting still- from of thin dreaming- ) is © Michael McAloran.
Note : I have linked my reading of In Damage Seasons- here , the reason being that while the two texts share a tripartite structure , they are vastly differing works in terms of how the writer manages his expression. In Damage Seasons- has a structural containment, a triptych architecture, that felt almost imprisoning as it tied down the poet’s voice.
3. DO NOT CENSOR
by Craig Podmore
In the name of television,
And the glossy magazines
(The deflowered dead that we are.)
Jonestown, by Craig Podmore
Do Not Censor is divided into two sections, Fiction and Reality. Craig Podmore investigates the blurred line between the two in a manner that reflects how reality operates in a post-millenarist culture of movie snuff and sex consumption. It reveals its hard edges much in the way drunken starlets upload their sex tapes to feed a cannibalising machine that will have their blood..
The Ghosts in the Machine of Fiction parade their post-mortem selves as desired objects that have burnt their image into our irises. Distracting icons who hid a multitude whilst revealing generous acres of flesh. These are the abbatoir-hung victims of a real masochistic need for adulation, and they are in the hands of the sadist advertiser.
from, The Polemic
Where Beth Short lay
Cut like a perfect film clip-
Her body edited and framed.
The raven dreamer
Took the murder scene stage;
The world shocked, bereaved-
Death performance, a media sensation.’
Marilyn, Elizabeth Short, Betty Page, icons of the industrial non-culture of post-WWII and Hiroshima, huge projected fellatrices and suicides, whose addictions fed (and feeds) psychotic addiction to non-reality. They are the very real reality of the undead icon. Here is the underbelly of vocalisation that Tom Waits sang in Sweet Little Bullet From A Pretty Blue Gun. Save now the underbelly is writ large across an abattoir of ghastly smiles in every newsagent across western civilisation. A trickle down of Hollywood snuff culture into every home that bothers to buy it. Turn away from it :
Hollywood Is A Correctional Facility
‘The teenage girl
Etching ‘Destroy’ onto her
Book of Revelations.
That Greta Garbo wears’.
The Reality section of Do Not Censor is not problematic, it is emblematic. Here celluloid snuff is played out on shopping streets and in motel rooms. Here the sociopath or psychopath whose head is filled with Hollywood BDSM victimization gets their kicks in a two dimensional world. The type of psychopathy that leads to massacres at premieres, or robot warfare in suburban neighbourhoods.
Gunmen On The High Street
‘Morality is absent in consumerism
As the gunmen shoot the shoppers down
But the shoppers are numb to the bullets
As they arise and continue to shop.’
The reader needn’t assume the role of judge given the toxicity of post-milleniarism. The screen plays out Hollywood-snuff in the blurred lines between how a reality is perceived, and how it is writ large onto that tarnished screen where audiences are umbilically fed a diet of 50 ft buttocks and botoxed faces.
Daily Masturbation and Internal bleeding
‘Porn star dialogue
For the menial tasks
And biblical passages
For the erotically charged
Acts of Murder.’
Again the undead advertising execs have burned their irrationality into mass consciousness, with reality a fine thread plucked and fucked by the advertisers who have people caring about stars weight increase, who is fucking who and why starlets do radical things to their bodies, whether implant or removal of glands to the point of nauseating microscopy. One wonders who guardians Jolie’s breasts ? Or why we should care about this level of personal revelation. But there it is in huge writing , in endless rote.
This is the culture of nadir – a nadir of cultural expression where flesh is the oldest currency. Its underbelly brought to the level of entertainment where entertainment aspires to cultural voice.