Liar Sentences

1-903488-44-3. May 2006. 66 pp. Barque Press
GBP £8.00 / USD $13.00

Reviewed by Melissa Flores-Bórquez


"I'll lick the shadow from your lidded eyes" promised Peter Manson in the Foil anthology, in his poem 'Summer Sadness', after Mallarmé's 'Tristesse d'été'. That poem is reprinted in For The Good Of Liars, as are others from earlier pamphlets – me generation (Writers Forum) and Birth Windows (Barque). Manson's heliographic versions of Mallarmé caused Andrew Duncan to remark, "for rapid recognition [Mallarmé] is a useful name: evoking a fastidious approach to language over tiny extents, polishing the setting of words until the fabric of familiarity collapses and we fall through into a micro-dimension of strangeness without apparent limits." Those collapses are a long way from the cooler detachments of tone one finds in Barbara Guest, another great one for growing onto Mallarmé's crystal vagueness, for Manson writes lines such as "If you dream you are fucking your mother what does that represent", and seems much more interested in bodily fluids than the great New York poet.

With forty-two Manson poems all in the same place, Manson-ideas, which were previously limited to small clusters of work, can now be extended. 'Sarin Canasta', a lethal game for three voices, is here, previously described by Tim Allen as Jarryesque: "Done in the form of an absurd play script it has the characters Clock's Dog, Mrs. Tungsten Loop and King Ilona verbally battling out a pataphysical tussle." King Ilona says "Ravenna is all hair." There is also a short piece of prose "after Sorley Maclean" which is the retraceable trace of a dialogue, and a series of amuses-gueules called 'Microtome', of which this is one -


only for
Barbara Guest's 'Fan Poems' come to mind, "Windows, Melissa, they contain what is best of us". These short pieces remain, however, diversions amid a blockier rhetoric,

The room a fabric of words, old stain
of something let happen in toner, self
-coloured lamb's caul that the checkerboard
takes to a new level and praises

outwits the concrete, only hour of sun
among animals, painted itself
by torchlight, ground in fat, from memory.
The break between two rooms is a switch, a simple device which does cause the lines to become more than lines but respectfully short of a sealed lyric surface. Manson's "technique" is often to keep control over the number of such switches in any given space, and this becomes his condensed style. It admits disgust and irony in what can sometimes be a clear overlaying of tones:


Go little, all of three years old
looping a sampled hate
you will not grow
to oil the wooden cog maquette
or tinpot stator.

MAFF made you a wick out of lamb
- the soft, yellow fat —
got on it clumsily,
something in the valley laughs
at your bursting, the forest can't
go with the wind, change, carrying torment
beyond reach of pollen,
boredom and the
fuck-you colossus larks.
Elsewhere, the two Mallarmé poems are as good as they were before, this series being Manson's most notable convergence so far; Jeremy Noel-Tod, in a TLS piece Smoke from the toaster gestures at a machined space when he describes Manson's technique here as "embroidered". Such a technological model (which surely must be kept in the present tense) raises this process: a central motif translates into a sewn field which vanishes the single view. This might smooth a pathos into Duncan's idea of a collapse in "the fabric of familiarity" - so that when Duncan writes "micro-dimension of strangeness without apparent limits", what he actually means is, Within the envelope of finite singularites which constitute any one person, we might see an infinite system of singularities mirrored there as unhousing obstacle, and see it as the field and agent of poetry. We might see it as a liar sentence.

The walls' burden, Erato, appended
as who will speak, linear gold

Collapse thought down to the sixty
words you own, dumb in impaction

An epitaph's outflow in beeswax,
the twice-reddened wick

Manson's lines can also draw a sub-sense into their flat voids; the phrases are not actualised by any undivided context or person, allowing a pure expression to flourish from the printer's ink, a manner most clearly to be found in 'A Funeral in Sense'. "The mirror can only blush..."

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