Jeff Hilson, Stretchers

Come, let us stretch

Jeff Hilson's Stretchers reviewed by Edmund Hardy

Mark Twain is quoted on the back: "mostly a true book, with some stretchers, as I said before." A stretcher is all opening. It is a lie, a bed, a stretching-along. It is 33-ish lines. A stretcher also seems to begin and end with an ellipsis. Many of them carry found material. There are three volumes of stretchers collected here, accompanied by an amusing essay, 'Why I wrote stretchers'.

Apparently they began as a response to Iain Sinclair's put-down of Hilson's then home, the Isle of Dogs - "Dog island", faux-isle - in chapter 1 of Lights Out For The Territory. "I . . . began, petulantly, to think of all the mounds of dog shit there as a kind of interruptive writing." Perhaps this indignance is also behind the name to Hilson's press, Canary Woof. I believe there to be a tradition of essayists kicking against the Dog - Have you been around the globe, asked Carlyle, "or only to Ramsgate and the Isle of Dogs." A stretcher is described by Hilson as a "barrel of odds and ends", "a glory hole", and "a pack of lies." One key constraint is this, "they can't be too wide. The need to stop them getting too wide has on occasions led to some interesting visual results." As for the 33 lines, "I was sitting in the bar underneath Centre Point just off Tottenham Court Road when a French woman there asked me my age. When I told her, she told me to watch out because Jesus had died at 33."

The mention of a life places the emphasis back on stretching-along, Strecke, erstrecken, an important idea, for Heidegger, of time consciousness, but Hilson quotes Maggie O'Sullivan, "s t r e t c h i n g // g o n e – o n – t o –"

Reading a stretcher, one is at first low down, speaking from child-height:

...the sawing man I fear for his legs
red white red white and he has years
this road they will dig it and widen the pave
tho it is not oxford street it is said
the rich must now walk on that side too
Thus begins the first stretcher, but then up we stretch to a few lines on public writing -

for graffiti there's dogshit it's a kind
of writing can be scried an inventory
taken of say colour consistency and
I won't have this neighbourhood
fears of a mass break-in nor pay
for inside when you can have sound
- which stretch and then stretch again. One form stretches inside another, "...bird to dawn as fox / takes child in two", pastoral within chess. "sue lawley" is mentioned, suggesting a radio show, Dog Island Discs. It is the incantatory phrase into phrase which can stretch into the archive of found material, into misspellings, fragments of chants, brackets within brackets, a tall tale full of the rhythms of other speech. A stretching along which is also a being-stretched if a form of historicizing movement. The important thing is this: there is no fixed "stretch of life", 33 years for Jeff or Jesus, for there can be a way to exist which stretches itself along between birth and death. In a Hilson stretcher, a concentration or a phrase expands, and it takes in what it cares to.

(the usual two & two is fair
& from three a win-win &
then there were none (they
all gone pair-bonding called
also night life (please sir
permission to blaze & as
he does red clouds of sunset
in the west was painted on
his coat (this way he was
disguised as a spreading
display which won me a
fiver & her eyes flashed
(it's keepers booty miss)
& a yellow patch to match
with no patch he was all in
Permission to blaze? A stretcher mis-uses that which it stretches into. Reading down the column, which stands immaculate among the ruined vocabularies. The idea of a stretcher works so well that every reading simply multiplies - by dint of new stretcher-ideas - whatever Hilson scraps together. How far can a lie stretch?

September 2006, 1-874400-34-2, price £7.50, 78pp, Reality Street

This is a poetry I trust!
Each Stretcher elasticates perception. Many piles of truth within the Lycra.
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