Ken Edwards, eight + six

Reality Street Editions / 2003 / ISBN: 1-874400-25-3 / £7.50 / paperback / 112pp

Reviewed by James Wilkes

"Bring back the persons!" Ken Edwards ups and says in the book's first poem, "they are bipolar and splendid". They are voices off (Thomas Wyatt, Caspar Brötzmann, Lyn Hejinian) or characters (Zeno, "a dickhead in a BMW", a tortoise) who surface and sink in a phenomenology, a stream of experience.

The health of a stream can be indicated by large numbers of caddis fly larvae, aquatic creatures building cases for the self from local materials: shells, reeds, sand.

A sonnet by Ken Edwards?

These poems build their cases from the voices of internet and business, pub chatter and jazz history, information exchange and the jostling of thoughts very interested in art & the world:

When Jimmy Cobb hit that high cymbal / when the metal went liquid & blue / all the cats in the farmyard woke from golden slumbers / in the twilight of money

tell him I'm tied up Mandy I am / shirted and cufflinked up don't get all previous / with me!

Striped of shirt and lambent of tie speaks / into a mobile a pipette of value wants to / plug a surf belladonna

and fractured management / corporate policies. I have read & understood / and agree to the terms & conditions

and send graphics, text files & other / information to John. Fibrillating and seriously flaky.
(from 'American Music' / 'Smithereens' / 'Speaks Into Mobile' / 'Click On This' / 'Windows for Dogs', respectively.)

Like Ted Berrigan before him, Edwards has written sonnets that actualise the blur between reading, remembering, perceiving and thinking, by collage (or perhaps I should say by assemblage – you can glue in lines from a Wyatt poem, or from a lecture by Hejinian, but can't you glue in a conversation or how you observed a man "up to his wrists in engine" – you have to stand these next to the others.) At its loosest the sonnet form is simply a receptacle:

Bebop       Buddleia     backup      crashing         why
          Bring        brouhaha      haha       to the   dark a
Burning      technically   like a     time              the lights
           Don’t          sleep      sense     shapesh     fish’n

Sense       sensing       lull to          strengths        precise
           Bi     biped          peddle             in the    gel if to
You        You don’t       And she        I write              unless
           Always       crashing      matter    casts    undo

(the first two verses from 'Among the Lime Kilns and Dilapidated Pleasure Gardens of Lambeth')

Here the form is like a glass jar filled with lines of different coloured sand – or maybe not, if "nothing is like anything else", a line Edwards borrows from Eric Mottram.

There's a sensitivity to the way words can spark words, as in 'The Deep Ecology of Special FX' which cuts a caper round an unspoken name, the shape in silhouette of a butterfly:

In the dead weather
before the storm
in fields where copper
flows like butter

as though a small winged
insect were in there
wanting egress
your chest flutters.

In dead television time
a ghost highway links
somewhere to nowhere.

You don't want to be there
but it isn't there – it's here
and there's no place else to go.
Fragments from earlier poems return and evoke their other contexts, the patterning of a fugue. In the second section of the book, the urbane and quizzical cases of the self move closer to becoming little songs (sonnetti) – and some proceed in series. Here is the first in the series called 'Perturbations':

You (a person)
at the keyboard (or away
from it). As if poised for flight
                to lee of, great hush.
The wood in that floor
with a solid sheen to it
your feet, pointed


green cymbals are stroked
with great, great gentleness (ppp)
to produce longing (keening).

This ruins my eyes.
The book is prefaced by a snippet from Merleau-Ponty, which concludes, "the ultimate court of appeal in our knowledge of these things [life, perception, mind], our experience of them". A judicial analogy, but here it is case opened, not case closed.

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